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Egyptian Celebrities Speak Out on Egypt’s #MeToo Reckoning

Salma Abu Deif and Hend Sabri are two of the Arab actors who have raised their voices on the issue.

New reports highlighting violence against women in Egypt have emerged following the arrest of Ahmed Bassam Zaki, a 22-year old man accused of assaulting over 100 students at the American University in Cairo. Having long struggled with the issue of sexual violence, Egypt has consistently ranked exceedingly low on matters of women’s safety, following closely behind the likes of New Delhi, Karachi and Kinshasa. Only exacerbated by the 2011 Arab Spring, the issue is sadly not new to the women of Egypt, as has been recently confirmed by powerful voices in the media. Taking to Instagram with compelling videos and poignant messages in relation to Zaki’s arrest, Egyptian celebrities have begun to speak out on their country’s deeply problematic issue of sexual assault.

Speaking to her 2.8 million followers, Egypt-based Tunisian actor and lawyer, Hend Sabri writes, “A broader view on the painful sexual assault case that is preoccupying the public opinion, I can guarantee that all Arab women – with the exception of few lucky ones- have experienced some sort of harassment and were too afraid to expose their predators because of the unfair social response.” Commending the strength and courage of young Egyptian women, Sabri says “I am very proud of this new generation of young girls who speak up. Harassment and rape are shameful for those who commit it, not the victim. Grateful for every woman who was not silenced and stood up for her dignity and that of every other woman. And grateful for the men who are standing wholeheartedly by the victims,” before signing off with the hashtags #notyourfault and #metoo.

Following suit, Egyptian actor Tara Emad posted a heartfelt video condemning perpetrators and showing solidarity with survivors. “We are tired because our voices aren’t heard,” the actor begins. “Tired from being accused that we are saying things that didn’t really happen or inventing things or being mistaken.” “It’s time to let everyone hear our voice. Every man should know, that if he tries to harass a woman, we won’t be quiet.” Alongside a caption that lists important phone numbers and email addresses for Egypt’s assault police and the Women’s Complaint Office, the actress ends with a solemn call to action, writing “#ListenToWomen.”

Also taking to Instagram with a video that has since been viewed 500,000 times, Egyptian actor and model Salma Abu Deif expresses grief over the unveiling situation in her country. Accompanied by a solemn caption, she writes, “there is so much anger inside of me. “Feeling unsafe, feeling harassed. Please speak up speak up speak up,” she says. “I want to feel safe in my own skin. I want to feel safe.” Also listing the harassment hotline number and encouraging her followers to contact a representative “in any case of harassment, rape or domestic violence,” the actor ends with a hashtag that reads “#IAmNotAnObject.”

Speaking to her eleven million followers, Egyptian television presenter Radwa El Sherbiny also took to Instagram with a video titled “the harasser story.” The video, which has since been viewed over 943,000 times, involves a promise by the presenter to women everywhere, saying she will always support them. “I am not just saying this because of the media,” says El Sherbiny. “I have two daughters, and I will never be quiet if anyone harms them.”

Confirming the fears of women like El Sherbiny, Abu Deif, Emad, and Sabri, Professor of Sociology at Ain Shams University Samia Qadri noted that the Egyptian society is “heading in the wrong direction.” With most of the blame being placed on women on account of the way they behave and dress, Qadri says “We already have laws to fight this phenomenon, but we do not deal with it strictly.” Claiming that a firmer and more unforgiving stance must be taken, she adds “these laws need to be activated and applied more widely, in the sense that they do not allow anyone to escape from punishment. Moving forward in applying them strictly will decrease the frequency of this issue.” At present, crimes of sexual harassment in Egypt warrants imprisonment for one year, and a fine ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 Egyptian pounds. Taking into consideration the possibility of an increased penalty depending on the nature of the assault, the maximum penalty stipulated for sexual assault includes a prison sentence of five years and a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds.

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