Egyptian TV Suspends Anchorwoman Who Said Mobs Assaulting Women Were 'Having Fun'

Station apologizes for remark during Tahrir Square celebrations of Sissi's inauguration, says presenter will be replaced as host of show.

The Associated Press
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Crowd at Cairo's Tahrir Square for Sissi's inauguration, June 8, 2014.Credit: AP
The Associated Press

An Egyptian TV station has suspended an anchorwoman who made light of the horrific sexual assaults of women by mobs in Cairo's Tahrir Square during Sunday's celebrations of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi's inauguration.

Egypt's Ahram Online reported Wednesday that the Tahrir satellite station suspended Maha Bahnassy, who said on the air in response to reports from the scene that women were being attacked by mobs: "The people are happy, they are having fun."

The station apologized for Bahnassy's comments and said she would be replaced as host of her weekly show.

The attacks were a grim reminder of one of Egyptian society's darkest sides and coincided with Sissi starring in carefully choreographed ceremonies held at two of the capital's most opulent presidential palaces and attended by hundreds of local and foreign dignitaries.

The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, said on Monday it had has arrested seven suspects ages 15 to 49 in connection with the sexual harassment that occurred during Sunday's celebrations. Three of those men have been charged with sexual assault under the threat of force and attempted rape, according to a statement issued by the nation's chief prosecutor, Hesham Barakat.

The statement also gave graphic details of the attack, saying the attackers first formed a circle around a woman and her teenage daughter, stripped the mother of her clothes and assaulted her. Later, the mother fell on a bowl of hot water used by a tea maker at the square, sustaining burns on 25 percent of her body.

Sexual harassment has long been a problem in Egypt, but assaults have increased dramatically in ferocity and in number over the three years since the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, is the most common site of such attacks amid the large crowds. Women's groups complain that tough new laws have not done enough.

On Wednesday, Sissi went to the hospital to visit one of the women assaulted Sunday in Tahrir Square. "I have come to tell you and every Egyptian woman that I am sorry. I am apologizing to every Egyptian woman," Sissi said as he stood by the woman's bed.