Egyptian police on Monday arrested seven men for allegedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old student during celebrations marking the inauguration of the country's new president in Cairo's central Tahrir Square a day earlier, security officials said.
The student was hospitalized after she was attacked on Sunday, the officials said. They gave no details on her condition and spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, said the men were arrested for “harassing several girls” but made no mention of the student or whether they were being charged with sexual assault or under new laws against sexual harassment. The accused are between the ages of 15 and 49, and a policeman was injured while the seven were being arrested, the ministry added. No further details emerged from the police about Sunday's attack.
Sexual harassment has been one of Egypt’s enduring social ills, prompting authorities last week to issue a decree declaring it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
Video footage posted on social media purportedly shows the student completely naked, parts of her body bloodied as policemen struggle to escort her out of Tahrir Square where tens of thousands were celebrating the inauguration of Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as the nation's new president.
Sisi, the former army chief who deposed former president Mohamed Morsi, was sworn in on Sunday amid mass celebrations organized by the authorities, after winning last month's presidential election in a landslide.
Previous to last week’s anti-sexual harassment decree, issued by former interim President Adly Mansour, Egypt's laws did not criminalize sexual harassment and only vaguely referred to such offenses as “indecent assault.”
The new law says those convicted face between six months to five years in prison, with the maximum punishment reserved for offenders holding a position of power over their victims, such as being a woman's boss at work or being armed.
Offenders would be prosecuted whether they commit harassment in public or private, and repeat offenders would see their sentences doubled, the decree said. Along with the maximum five-year sentence, offenders would be fined up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds, or about $714.
Last year, a joint report by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Egypt's Demographic Center and the National Planning Institute found that more than 99 percent of the hundreds of women surveyed in seven of the country's 27 provinces reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment, ranging from minor harassment to rape.
Over the past three years, including under Morsi’s year-long rule, there have been multiple mass sexual assaults on women during political protests.