Now every demonstration in Tahrir – and they happen weekly – seethes with likely sexual violence. Sexual assault has always been a part of an Egyptian women’s experience – on buses, on the streets and at the scenes of large celebrations. But since the anti-Mubarak uprising there have been two distinct brands of sexual assault: what happens in Tahrir Square and what happens everywhere else.
Outside the square, men put lemons in their pockets and rub up against women in crowded spaces, such as packed buses, to test their reactions. If the women don’t protest, they rub against them with their genitals. If the women object, the other men on the bus call them crazy. Crowds that gather in the street after a major soccer victory or the end of Ramadan grope women in what’s considered a form of celebration. Taxi drivers expose themselves to female passengers. Other drivers grab women’s breasts as they walk by in traffic-crowded streets.
At Tahrir, however, sexual assault is a form of organized warfare that starts when the sun sets. The attacks are sophisticated and violent.
When women started taking men with them to Tahrir for protection, the attackers figured out ways to separate them. When anti-sexual harassment groups emerged, men started donning the group’s vests to pretend they were there to help. When women screamed for help, men shouted over them so no one could hear their pleas. When women started speaking out about such attacks, the government said it was the women who were at fault.
In the last few weeks, a new permutation has occurred: Attackers are using razor blades to cut women’s breasts and genitals.
The attackers appear increasingly organized: One man is assigned to rip off a woman’s pants, another, her top. Then they maneuver her to the dark streets outside the square. There, the attackers surround the woman, keeping away anyone who tries to help her.
There’s no profile for a potential victim. A woman in her 70s, separated from her daughter, is among the victims, Ghozlan said. So are women who were fully covered in the black floor-length garb known as a niqab.
Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, has yet to speak about the issue. Nor have the police or the Ministry of Interior, which oversees the security forces. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil proposed a new law against such crimes, but the legislation lies dormant. Adel Afify, a member of the parliament’s upper chamber, the Shura Council, and an adherent of the conservative Asala Party, blames the victims. “By getting herself involved in such circumstances, the woman bears 100 percent responsibility,” he said.
There have been no reported convictions of men who assaulted women in the square. The silence, Amnesty International charged in a report earlier this year, "has fueled violent attacks against women in the vicinity of Tahrir Square."
Women here say they have little faith that the government could stop the attacks anyway. In a nation where the government can’t stop protesters from defying curfew, can’t protect the presidential palace or even pick up the trash, such a pervasive problem is simply beyond its reach. Others suspect the government is sponsoring the assaults as a means to keep women from protesting.