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The Big Story
Two incidents this week in Egypt have served to highlight the problems of sexual harassment plaguing the country:
- Seventeen-year-old Basant Khaled died by suicide in her village in the province of Gharbeya after fake nude images of her circulated among youth in the village. She had allegedly refused the advances of a young man who created the images in revenge.
- Carmaker Citroen pulled an ad featuring the country’s top pop singer Amr Diab in which he takes a photo of a woman without her knowledge to highlight the car’s camera features. The ad was pulled after an outcry.
Tell Me More:
- News of Basant Khaled’s suicide emerged early in the week. In interviews circulating in the press, her father said that he returned home after finding out about the images in a state of nervous shock. On his way home from Friday prayers, he heard a scream emanating from his house, and returned to find that his daughter had taken her own life with a poison pill.
- In a handwritten suicide note, Khaled repeatedly said that she was not the person in the images and that she had entered into a state of acute depression. “Mama, I hope you understand I am not this girl… I swear to God, it is not me.” Under her name, she wrote: “It’s not me … I was raised in the best way.”
- According to news reports, the youth in question doctored the photos and circulated them after his advances were denied.
- Police reportedly detained two individuals in connection with the case. They will likely be prosecuted for blackmail.
- The incident sparked an outcry on social media and a hashtag “Basant Khaled’s right must be returned.”
- In the Citroen case, an ad featuring pop star Amr Diab was published online. In it, Diab snaps a photo using the car’s onboard camera after almost running over a woman as she walks in front of the car. They later go on a date.
- The ad was panned on social media, and Citroen pulled the item, issuıng a statement on Instagram apologizing to those it had offended. Diab does not appear to have issued a statement in response to the controversy.
- Egypt has an enormous problem with sexual harassment, which is pervasive. In a March 2020 report published by Arab Barometer, a research organization, 90 percent of women ages 18 to 29 and 88 percent of women in their 30s reported being sexually harassed over a 12-month period. Cairo was ranked as the most dangerous city in the world for women in a Reuters survey.The two incidents highlighted the ongoing challenge of sexual harassment despite halting government efforts to tackle the problem.
- Part of the challenge is social — the stigma associated with victims of sexual harassment can prevent many from reporting incidents or simply taking them in stride for fear that they will be blamed for their harassment or that their honor will be besmirched.
- In the past, the government has sought to combat the problem by encouraging victims to come forward. A series of high-profile cases in 2020, including an alleged gang rape at the Fairmont Hotel, has spurred a broader conversation over how such cases are handled.
- Still, despite assurances that victims of harassment will be treated sensitively, some sexual assault cases have been mishandled. In addition, such assurances are counteracted by the government’s enforcement of social mores through other high-profile cases targeting females, including arrests of women and girls who produce allegedly provocative TikTok videos that are seen as unsuitable for the country’s conservative audience.
- Still, the outrage the incidents have sparked on social media indicates that the authorities are susceptible to pressure regarding cases of sexual harassment.