London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi visited on Wednesday one of the victims of a mass sexual assault that took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during Sunday’s celebrations marking his inauguration as the country’s new president.
A video posted on YouTube on Sunday claimed to show one of the attacks that occurred in the square that day, with the footage displaying a young naked woman surrounded by a mob of men. The video sparked outrage on social media and television networks, with many calling for substantial measures to be taken regarding the phenomenon that has plagued Egypt during recent years.
State television showed Sisi on Wednesday apologizing in person to one of the victims of the attacks, whose face was blurred to protect her anonymity.
“I have come to tell you and every Egyptian woman that I am sorry,” Sisi told her, standing beside the hospital bed while holding a bouquet of red flowers. He added: “I offer my apologies to all Egyptian women”
The president’s office said in a statement on Tuesday that Sisi had “instructed the interior minister to . . . take all necessary measures” to combat the phenomenon, which the presidency said in the statement was “an unacceptable form of conduct,” and one that was “alien to the Egyptian temperament.”
A separate statement from the president’s office said Sisi had also instructed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab to put together a ministerial committee to devise a national strategy to combat the phenomenon.
The Interior Ministry said on Monday it had arrested seven men aged 15–49 in connection with Sunday’s attacks, though it was unclear whether they were the perpetrators of the assault shown on the YouTube video. A statement later issued by the country’s top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, said that three of those men had been charged.
The statement also said the attackers had formed a circle around a woman who was accompanied by her teenage daughter in the square, and forcibly stripped the mother of her clothes and then assaulted her.
The mother also sustained 25-percent burns to her body after falling on a bowl of hot water used at one of the square’s many tea stands, the statement said.
The president’s office said Sisi visited the mother, also on Wednesday.
This comes as former interim president Adly Mansour issued a new decree last week criminalizing sexual harassment, which now carries a punishment of between six months to five years in jail, or fines totaling 3,000 Egyptian pounds (420 US dollars), for anyone convicted.
Prior to the decree, sexual harassment was not a crime according to Egyptian law, which classified such incidents as cases of “indecent assault.”
Sexual harassment has been rife in Egypt in recent years with local women and tourists complaining they have been victims of assault or harassment. A joint report by the UN, Egypt’s Demographic Center and the country’s National Planning Institute last year showed that 99.3 percent of women and girls in the country had been subjected to some form of sexual harassment.