Egypt has seen a significant surge in sexual violence perpetrated by its own security forces since the military takeover in July 2013, according to a report by FIDH. The report, released in May, details the uses of state-sanctioned sexual violence against opponents of President el-Sisi’s regime, NGO representatives and common-law detainees, amongst other victims. It demonstrates the extension of sexual violence from the public sphere to police, state security and military personnel, and the weaponising of such abuse as an explicit form of state violence.
Interviews conducted with victims tell of sexual abuse ranging from sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault to genital electrocution and sex-based defamation. According to FIDH, sexual violence is used by officials to ‘eliminate public protests’ and ‘legitimise the authorities as guardians of the moral order’. Although women make up a significant number of those suffering the regime, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other political dissidents are also being targeted.
Reports of state-sanctioned sexual violence follow a three-year period of increased mob rapes and sexual assaults following the revolution of January 2011. The FIDH report shows that the actions of the state highlight the increasingly direct role security forces are playing in the perpetration of sexual violence in Egypt. This trend differs significantly from the public announcements made by President el-Sisi’s government claiming their commitment to fighting sexual violence. In a world that is increasingly questioning the legitimacy and trustworthiness of authority, el-Sisi’s government joins a long line of state powers whose actions deeply conflict with their promises.
The history of sexual violence in Egypt does not, however, begin with el-Sisi’s government. As the FIDH report claims, sexual violence is a historic weapon of the Egyptian authorities. Protest movements in the 1990s saw baltagiya (gangs), deployed by the Ministry of the Interior to infiltrate groups of demonstrators, sexually assault women demonstrators with no interference by security forces. The May 2005 ‘Black Wednesday’ is a further example of sexual assault in the presence or knowledge of state officials, including officers of the Ministry of Interior and the riot police.
The history of sexual violence and torture in Egypt showcases the ability of authorities to weaponise such assault with ease. For women, sexual violence threatens to disgrace not only them, but also their families, because of the taboos of sex and its association with shame. Gay and transgender people are increasingly suffering under el-Sisi’s regime of sexual torture, too, demonstrating the intolerance against LGBTQ people despite no laws criminalising same-sex activity or alternative gender identities. For a government acting in the wake of a revolution, with the hopes of Cairo and the wider Egyptian population resting on their shoulders, el-Sisi’s promises to prioritise the fight against sexual violence was a promising start to a potentially revolutionary leadership. The FIDH report, however, has highlighted the false promises and the hypocrisy of the Egyptian government, and is likely to be the start of a further movement to expose and fight against state sexual violence in the country.
– Ellen Finch, Correspondent (Our World)