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Activist: Egypt's leaders label female protesters 'prostitutes'

By Tim Hume, for CNN and Mairi Mackay, CNN
updated 11:34 AM EST, Fri November 25, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy says she was beaten; sexually assaulted by riot police
  • She has a broken left arm and broken right hand
  • Egypt's only female presidential candidate alleges sexual assault by army Sunday
  • Activist: For years Mubarak's regime was torturing women, harassing women

(CNN) -- A prominent Egyptian activist says that continued sexual assaults of women protestors shows the Mubarak regime's "culture of violence" towards women remains unchanged in Egypt today.

"For years Mubarak's regime was torturing women, harassing women, detaining mothers and daughters and wives of prisoners to put pressure on them," said Mozn Hassan, director of the research organization Nazra for Feminist Studies. "For sure it's the culture of the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces).

"It's a culture-based violence towards women. They want to exclude us from the public. The SCAF want to give the message that revolutionary people, if they are men, they are thugs, if they are women, they are sex workers and prostitutes."

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Well-known American-Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy was left with a broken left arm and right hand after what she describes as a "brutal beating" and sexual assault by Egyptian riot police Wednesday.

Eltahwy says the attack took place in Tahrir Square while she was covering the protests.

"Right now my left arm is broken and my right hand is broken and this is as a result of a brutal beating by the Egyptian riot police.

"A group of riot police surrounded me -- about five of them -- and they beat me and their big sticks kind of rained down upon my arm and that's why it's broken because I was trying to protect myself.

"And they also sexually assaulted me -- I was groped all over my body. I lost count of the number of hands that tried to get into my trousers.

"They dragged me to the Ministry of the Interior ... they dragged me by the hair, called me all kinds of insults," she said.

I lost count of the number of hands that tried to get into my trousers
Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-American

Eltahawy says she was detained there for for 10 to 12 hours, first by ministry officials and then by military intelligence.

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She says that sexual assault has long been used by the Egyptian security forces as a weapon against women.

"Egyptian security services have used sexual assault to try to intimidate women from street protests and activism and for years now Egyptian women have bravely spoken out.

"I'm taking this chance to shame them, to shame them for what they did because when I was being assaulted by those riot police officers, it was as if I was set upon by a bunch of beasts," she said.

Colonel Islam Jaffar, Head of the military's Morals Department in Central Cairo said he saw Eltahawy and spoke to her during her detention.

He said that she had no Egyptian press pass that identified her as a reporter while she was in Tahrir Square taking photographs and reporting on clashes between protesters and the police and army.

He said: "What did she expect? She could be a spy for all we know. When she told me she was sexually assaulted I encouraged her to take the appropriate legal action."

Eltahawy is not the first prominent Egyptian female to accuse security forces of sexual assault in the recent violence in Egypt.

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Bothaina Kamel, Egypt's only female presidential candidate and a strident opponent of military rule, says she was the victim of sexual assault by soldiers after she joined a protest near Tahrir Square on Sunday.

We removed Mubarak ... but we are still living under the umbrella of the same regime
Bothaina Kamel, female presidential candidate

Kamel, a former television presenter, told CNN, with her husband Ashraf El Baroudi, a judge, translating, that she was arrested and "beaten all over" and "touched" sexually by army officers.

She said that some officers recognized her and tried to dissuade others from carrying out the assault: "They (some officers) don't want to punish me or to beat me (because they know) I will talk to all the world."

Kamel said the army and police have been brought up on a "culture of torture and not respecting human rights."

"We made a revolution to stand against all the phenomenon of bad behavior and what happened was we removed Mubarak ... but we are still living under the umbrella of the same regime," she said.

Following her assault Kamel returned to Tahrir Square to participate in the uprising, urging the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to make way for a civilian government.

An Egyptian army spokesman said Thursday Kamal Ganzouri had agreed to become Egypt's prime minister and will form a new government.

More: Would-be prime minister no stranger to Egyptian government

Feminist activist Hassan said that since the revolution, Egyptian women were "experiencing a new public space." "Before that, based on the cultural values we have been raised on, women had to be protected and didn't used to be in the public."

She said about 1,000 women had marched on Tahrir Square Tuesday to reassert women's position at the forefront of the revolution.

"It's important to give messages that we are not afraid and we are willing to die," said Hassan. "We will be in the front, defending the revolution and defending other women and men."

Has there been a failure to prioritize participation of women in the transitional mechanism set up by the military? Yes.
Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch researcher, Egypt

She added that in the tumult since January, certain voices were still trying to drive women out of public life, "because we have been raised like this." But she said many women had decided not to retreat into the domestic sphere as was expected of them.

"Some people thought the culture-based discrimination we had been raised on could be changed in 18 days," she said. "Now they know it's a long struggle. Eighteen days is not changing a society. This is about continuing the revolution."

Hassan believes that by remaining front and center, women activists were gradually helping to shift cultural attitudes around gender roles. But the attitude of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in its treatment of women remained unchanged from the Mubarak era.

Human Rights Watch says the Egyptian military has not investigated or prosecuted anyone for the sexual assault of seven women by military officers in the military prison in Hikestep in March. An unnamed general admitted to CNN in May that the military had subjected the women to "virginity tests."

"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," he said. "The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs)."

Heba Morayef, the organization's researcher in Egypt, said that in many ways women had been sidelined since the beginning of the revolution in January.

She said: "Have they been excluded from key decision-making posts? Has there been a failure to prioritize participation of women in the transitional mechanism set up by the military? Yes."

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Ivan Watson in Cairo

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