Seven men were arrested on Monday in connection with attacks on at least five women during the celebrations of the inauguration of the new Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, on Sunday night.
In a video of one incident in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a naked and bloodied woman emerges from the crowd and is taken away by police.
Mohamed al-Habibi, a volunteer with the “I Saw Harassment” monitoring initiative who witnessed the incident, said it was impossible to tell who was part of the assault and who was trying to help the woman.
“I saw hundreds of people grabbing a woman. The police were there, shooting in the air, it took them 20 minutes to get her out. She was unable to speak,” he said.
Some Egyptians were further enraged when a television presenter seemed to make light of the assaults.
Maha Bahnassi, a presenters with Tahrir TV, was told by a reporter that there had been “isolated cases of sexual harassment”. The presenter interrupted her and said: “Well, they’re happy. Boys will be boys.”
Bahnassi later claimed she was addressing colleagues in the studio and did know her microphone was on.
Fathi Farid, a spokesman for “I Saw Harassment” said there were at least five assaults that evening and four of the victims required hospital treatment.
“By sunset, the police disappeared from the square and the [security] gates were taken down. There were a few groups of harassers but then their number increased.
“There were more weapons used in the assaults than on previous occasions.”
The mass demonstrations of the Arab Spring have led to an outbreak of public violence against women.
Political opponents or opportunists in the middle of a mob use the protests as a cover to sexually assault females.
On 25 January 2013 – the second anniversary of the 2011 demonstrations – 29 serious assaults against women were recorded. Previously, police were banned from Tahrir Square but now they have returned.
Noora Finkelman of Harassmap said the sexual harassment and assault of women in Egypt had become accepted.
“The rapes that happen in Tahrir are an extreme form of the harassment we experience in society, verbally or by touching,” she said.
“It has become normalised and accepted. If I’m getting harassed on the streets, no one will intervene.”
Before his landslide election victory, former Field Marshal Sisi stressed his appreciation of Egyptian women and condemned sexual harassment. Women went on to support Sisi at the polls more strongly than their male counterparts.
Sisi first came to public attention in 2011, when he defended “virginity tests” carried out by soldiers on protesters whom they had arrested in Tahrir Square.
The procedure was carried out “to protect the girls from rape and the soldiers and officers from accusations of rape,” he said at the time.