Egypt on Saturday began the trial of a former student of an elite university on charges of sexual assault of three minors in a case that has launched a new wave of the #MeToo movement in the Arab world’s most populous country.
The former student at the American University in Cairo was arrested in July after the allegations against him went viral, resulting in a firestorm on social media. The #MeToo movement aims to hold accountable those involved in sexual misconduct and those who cover it up.
The trial opened amid tight security at a criminal court in the New Cairo district. The suspect could face up to life in prison if convicted.
The defendant attended the first closed-door procedural session, in which prosecutors read the charges against the former student and defense lawyers submitted their demands to the court. The trial was adjourned till November 7.
The former student faces charges of blackmailing and sexually harassing the women, who were minors at the time the alleged crimes took place.
According to accusations posted on social media, the former student would mine the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs, to target for sexual assault.
He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them with to have sex with him, according to these accusations. If they did not, he would threaten to send the pictures to their family.
The former student hails from a wealthy family and studied at the American International School, one of Egypt’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo. University officials said he left the school in 2018.
His case, activists say, shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines. Many in Egypt have previously portrayed sexual harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.
Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation. In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victims of such crimes.