A growing number of women are speaking out about a sexual assault epidemic in Egypt's landmark Tahrir Square.
The rampant attacks have sparked an offshoot of Egypt's political protest movement, with women brandishing knives, rallying in the square, and taking to the media to combat the disturbingly ubiquitous trend. As the Financial Times reports, the frequency and intensity of the assaults has increased dramatically since November, culminating on a dark day in January, when 19 such attacks occurred on the two-year anniversary of the protests.
In the video above, Egyptian-American activist Nora Soliman tells HuffPost Live's Ahmed Shihab Eldin of her experience being groped and cornered among throngs of protesters. As Soliman recounts, the violence appeared widespread and well-coordinated, as men seem to scout out women who are not accompanied by men and corner them when they are most vulnerable.
"We were very aware that we were being watched," Soliman says.
Complicating matters is the glaring reluctance of the authorities to counteract incidents of violence against women. Back in December, the U.K. Channel 4's Unreported World aired a documentary in which victims of sexual assault testified that when they reported the assaults to the police, they were met with disregard.
The familiar refrain of blaming the victim has not gone unsung. Last Monday, the human rights commission for the majority-Islamist Shura Council held a press conference condemning the women for putting themselves in harm's way, the Daily Beast notes.
"[Women] know they are among thugs," said Adel Afifi, a committee member and representative of the ultra-conservative Asala Party. "They should protect themselves before requesting that the Interior Ministry does so. By getting herself involved in such circumstances, the woman bears 100 percent responsibility."
For their part, the women of Egypt are not keeping silent. In a demonstration against sexual violence last week, 1,000 women rallied in defiance of the suggestion that they stay home in order to avoid being attacked, the Associated Press reports. One banner read directly responded to Afifi's remarks, stating, "A woman in the square is a revolution, but your words Afifi are shameful."
The U.S. has similarly denounced the attacks, as well as the failure of the government to protect its citizens, the AP notes.
"The road to democracy and stability in Egypt must be a peaceful one," Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, told reporters in Cairo. "There can be no turning back to the past."
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