Egyptian Men Form Human Shields Around Female Protestors In Cairo’s Tahrir Square

Egypt’s political deadlock persists as millions of protesters hit the streets in unprecedented numbers.

According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), a global rights watchdog based in New York, during the past four days of protests against President Mohamed Morsi women have been constantly assaulted. “We documented about 46 accounts of sexual harassment cases,” said Intessar Said, a lawyer who manages the Cairo Center for Development and Human Rights. “Some of those women were raped.”

To protect women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square from sexual harassment and assault, Egyptian men have begun forming human shields around the female protesters.

Image by SUHAIB SALEM / Reuters

Sexual harassment has long been common in Egypt, but the increasing occurrence and viciousness has shaken the protest movement. Unfortunately, the government response has been to downplay the extent of the problem.

Image by Amr Nabil / AP

Nearly a hundred women have fallen victim to “rampant” sexual attacks by mobs throughout Tahrir Square (the epicenter of the 2011 revolution), which human rights workers and victims believe are systematic, carried out to stain the image of the anti-government demonstrations. The protest-linked violence is allegedly a tactic utilized to send a message to Egypt’s fathers and brothers–warning them to encourage women to stay at home.

“These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country’s development,” the New York-based watchdog said.

A 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found that a staggering 83 percent of Egyptian women had been subjected to sexual harassment in their lifetime.

Hundreds of thousands of brave women and young girls have been protesting across the country. With their faces painted red, white and black, the colors of the Egyptian flag, they marched and fiercely chanted, addressing Morsi with “Erhal!” or “Leave!” The widespread sexual violence against women who are both participating in the anti-government rallies or simply present has become what many people are calling sexual “terrorism.”

Image by SUHAIB SALEM / Reuters

In February 2011, when correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted as Egyptians celebrated the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the dark reality of the issue was brought to light.

After more than two years of protests, women are defining the revolution–working hard to maintain what they worked so hard to achieve during their civil rights movement and not allowing their rights to be threatened.

Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, an Egyptian women’s group formed in the wake of the numerous sexual assaults during the Arab Spring, said that there were 44 sexual assaults during the protests on Sunday, the highest number since the group’s formation.

Image by Hassan Ammar / AP

“The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.