Report reveals harrowing accounts of sexual assault in Egypt

Egyptian women give harrowing accounts of sexual assault in Egypt's criminal justice system
4 min read
08 July, 2021
A series of testimonies by Egyptian women - who were either detained by authorities or were the victims of previous sexual assault incidents trying to report crimes to the authorities - revealed how they were allegedly harassed and assaulted.
Despite recent legal reforms to combat sexual and gender violence in Egypt, women have faced sexual assaults at the hands of police officers and doctors [Getty]

A report has detailed shocking allegations of routine sexual assault within the Egyptian criminal justice system.

A series of testimonies by Egyptian women - who were either detained by authorities or were the victims of previous sexual assault incidents trying to report crimes to the authorities - revealed how they were allegedly harassed by police officers and state doctors. 

The women - including a transgender woman and journalists who worked for Al Jazeera - spoke to The New York Times about being forced to strip naked, touched without consent and enduring invasive medical examinations, one of which a woman said amounted to rape. 

Many of the incidents reported are violations of international human rights law, however the women said they were unable to hold preparators to account due to societal pressures.

Asmaa Abdel Hamid, who was arrested in 2018 for protesting against a rise in train ticket prices, said her alleged assault at the hands of police officers and doctors was "one of the most painful experiences that I had to endure". 

On one occasion, Hamid said she was in a public hospital when she had to strip naked in front of officers, before a doctor then looked between her legs to see if she was a virgin. On another occasion in prison, a guard reportedly penetrated her anally while his finger was wrapped in a plastic bag found on the floor. 

"I could see the officers laughing at me. This is the thing that crushed me," Hamid said in an interview. 

Although no public data is available on sexual assaults in Egypt's criminal justice system, collective evidence from civil society groups, experts, lawyers and therapists suggests they happen frequently, according to reports. 

The aim is to "humiliate your humanity," said a police officer who worked in Egyptian prisons to The New York Times. 

Accounts of sexual abuse against women are “everywhere,” they said. 

Government officials have dismissed and denied claims of systematic sexual assault, insisting the searches are standard procedure.

Forensic medical examinations are allowed for certain reasons, such as to search for evidence of a sexual assault, however in Egypt they are often conducted by people who are not professionally trained- sometimes months or years after any physical evidence is likely to be found, said a senior doctor at Egypt’s Forensic Medicine Authority. 

Malak Elkashif, a transgender woman who was arrested aged 19 for protesting in 2019, said she was groped and subjected to two invasive medical examinations to determine whether she should go to a male or female prison. 

"He used his finger to penetrate me. And the officer was watching. It was truly surreal," she said. 

Unable to come to a conclusive result, authorities put Elkashif in solidarity confinement in a male prison for five months. 

Amnesty International said at the time that Elkashif was convicted "on trumped-up charges of ‘aiding a terrorist organisation’ and ‘misusing social media to commit a crime punishable by law'." After an international campaign spotlighting her detention, Elkashif was released from prison. 

"We can't do anything but speak, and speak until there’s nothing left for us to talk about," she said in an interview.

Allegations of sexual assault received greater attention in Egypt over the past year as more women have come forward to speak out about their experiences of gender violence - creating a movement dubbed “Egypt’s #MeToo”.

Many survivors were encouraged to speak following the now infamous Fairmount Hotel case, in which a woman claimed she was drugged and gang-raped at the five-star Fairmont Nile City Hotel in Cairo in 2014. She was 18-years-old at the time and became pregnant as a result of the incident. She accused nine men of committing the attack. 

Following a nine-month investigation, four suspects were released. Witnesses in the case, including two men and three women, were arrested by authorities, according to Human Rights Watch. The organisation reported that one of the female witnesses was subjected to a "virginity test" while in detention. 

Virginity tests, when a women’s hymen is checked to see whether she is sexually active, still take place in Egyptian prisons despite having been called a "violation of women’s bodies" by Egyptian courts. 

"The government must prioritise investigating the widespread cases of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in Egypt and take real steps to combat gender discrimination in law and practice," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Acting Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The New Arab contacted Egypt’s National Council for Women for a comment, but they did not respond by the time of publication.