PARIS — A correspondent for France 24 TV was "savagely attacked" near Cairo's Tahrir Square after being seized by a crowd, the network said Saturday. It was the latest case of violence against women at the epicenter of Egypt's restive protests.
The news channel said in a statement that Sonia Dridi was attacked around 10:30 p.m. Friday after a live broadcast on a protest at the square and was later rescued by a colleague and other witnesses. France 24 did not give further details about the attack, but it said its employees were safe and sound, though "extremely shocked," and that it will file suit against unspecified assailants.
The network, which receives state funds but has editorial independence, said it and the French Embassy were working to bring Dridi back to France.
"More frightened than hurt," wrote Dridi in French on her Twitter page Saturday. Referring in English to a colleague, she tweeted: "Thanks to (at)ashrafkhalil for protecting me in (hash)Tahrir last nite. Mob was pretty intense. thanks to him I escaped from the unleashed hands."
Ashraf Khalil, who works with France 24's English language service, said the crowd was closing in on him and Dridi while they were doing live reports on a side street off Tahrir. He said the attack and rescue took about half an hour, but it felt like a lot longer.
"The crowd surged in and then it went crazy. It was basically me keeping her in a bear hug, both arms around her and face-to-face," he told The Associated Press, estimating that at least 30 men were involved. "It was hard to tell who was helping and who was groping her."
Khalil said they retreated into a fast food restaurant with a metal door, to keep her out of the reach of the attackers. He said they hustled into a car, and some men banged on it as it sped away. Some of their belongings had been stolen, he said.
"It didn't feel organized or targeted. It felt disorganized," he said. "I felt angry. I love Tahrir. I have a lot of nostalgia for Tahrir. I am still angry. I know this is not the first time this happened; it happened to other people I know. Still, it was a shock."
Tahrir Square was the main hub of a popular uprising that toppled longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak last year. Since then, it has seen numerous other protests staged by a range of groups.
At the height of the uprising against Mubarak, Lara Logan, a correspondent for U.S. network CBS, was sexually assaulted and beaten in Tahrir Square. She said later that she believed she was going to die. After being rescued, Logan returned to the United States and was treated in a hospital for four days.
The square has seen a rise in attacks against women since protesters returned this summer for new rallies, including incidents of attackers stripping women – both fellow demonstrators and journalists – of their clothes.
No official numbers exist for attacks on women in the square because police do not go near the area and women rarely file official reports on such incidents, but activists and protesters have reported an increase in assaults against women. And although sexual harassment is not new to Egypt, suspicions abound that many of the recent attacks are organized by opponents of various protests in a bid to drive people away.
Amnesty International said in a report in June that such attacks appeared designed to intimidate women and prevent them from fully participating in public life. The London-based human rights group has called on Egyptian authorities to investigate reports of sexual assault against women to counter the impression that no one will be punished.
Sarah El-Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo.