Egypt Harshens Punishment for Sexual Harassment

New penalties approved by the Egyptian parliament on Monday come after a growing public discourse in recent years on sex crimes against women

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An Egyptian youth reaches for young girls in Cairo, 2012.
An Egyptian youth reaches for young girls in Cairo, 2012.Credit: Mohammed Abu Zeid / אי־פי

The Egyptian parliament on Monday approved harsher penalties for sexual harassment and related crimes and upgraded them to felony offenses, aiming to curb sex-related assaults in a nation where women have long felt disadvantaged.

Sex crimes have been an increasing topic of conversation in recent years in the conservative, Muslim-majority nation, with several high profile court cases coming to varying conclusions.

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Dozens of Egyptians began posting accounts of sexual assault on social media last year, but campaigners say there remains a deep-rooted bias in Egypt to place more blame on women for behavior deemed provocative than on men for sex crimes.

Public prosecutors in May shelved a case over a woman's allegation that she was gang-raped at a luxury hotel in Cairo in 2014 because of "insufficient evidence" against the defendants.

Referring to earlier laws passed in 2014, a parliamentary committee said in a report on Monday that "although the punishments listed were a quantum leap at the time, they did not achieve the necessary deterrence."

In the measure approved on Monday, the penalty for sexual harassment was increased from a minimum of one year in prison to a minimum of five years, or a penalty of up to 300,000 Egyptian pounds ($19,100), up from 20,000 pounds.

In situations where a power imbalance was in place because of a professional or familial relationship, or in cases involving the use of weapons or accomplices, the penalty was increased from a minimum of two to a minimum of seven years, in addition to a 10-fold increase of the maximum fine to 500,000 Egyptian pounds.

The penalties for stalking and general harassment were also increased substantially.

In August, the parliament approved a law protecting the identity of victims of sexual harassment and assault, after a social media campaign led to the arrest of a suspected sex offender. 

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