Egyptian protesters against sexual assault are sexually assaulted

As mob heckles and gropes demonstrators, are women's rights going backwards in Egypt?

An Egyptian rally to protest against sexual harassment ended when the participants were attacked and groped by a group of men, the Associated Press has reported.

Around 50 women, surrounded by male supporters, turned out for the demonstration on Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, holding placards which declared that "harassment is barbaric". But a mob of hundreds of men overwhelmed the supporters and began to heckle and grope the women. 

Sally Zohney, who helped organise the protest, voiced her disgust on Twitter: "I'm traumatised by the testimonials friends r sharing of today's attack".

There are growing numbers of reports from women who were involved in last year's Arab Spring protests that the mood in the country is turning, and that street harassment is returning. The writer and activist Ahdaf Soueif told last week's New Statesman magazine: "Women were very careful to say that they were taking part in the revolution as citizens. Social problems such as harassment on the streets, and so on, vanished during the 18 days. They’re back now. What is new is the way that women respond. There’s graffiti, stickers, women taking self-defence classes, so the fightback is on."

Journalist Mona El-Tawahy is one of those who have been injured in protests: she was arrested in Cairo last year and detained for 12 hours, and both her arms were broken. She reported that she had been sexually assaulted while in detention, and later wrote an essay for Foreign Policy magazine about the "war on women" in the Middle East. It argued:

An entire political and economic system -- one that treats half of humanity like animals -- must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

Tahrir Square on June 7. It has been the scene of repeated protests. Photo: Getty Images

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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An alternative Trainspotting script for John Humphrys’ Radio 4 “Choose Life” tribute

Born chippy.

Your mole often has Radio 4’s Today programme babbling away comfortingly in the background while emerging blinking from the burrow. So imagine its horror this morning, when the BBC decided to sully this listening experience with John Humphrys doing the “Choose Life” monologue from Trainspotting.

“I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got Radio 4?” he concluded, as a nation cringed.

Introduced as someone who has “taken issue with modernity”, Humphrys launched into the film character Renton’s iconic rant against the banality of modern life.

But Humphrys’ role as in-studio curmudgeon is neither endearing nor amusing to this mole. Often tasked with stories about modern technology and digital culture by supposedly mischievous editors, Humphrys sounds increasingly cranky and ill-informed. It doesn’t exactly make for enlightening interviews. So your mole has tampered with the script. Here’s what he should have said:

“Choose life. Choose a job and then never retire, ever. Choose a career defined by growling and scoffing. Choose crashing the pips three mornings out of five. Choose a fucking long contract. Choose interrupting your co-hosts, politicians, religious leaders and children. Choose sitting across the desk from Justin Webb at 7.20 wondering what you’re doing with your life. Choose confusion about why Thought for the Day is still a thing. Choose hogging political interviews. Choose anxiety about whether Jim Naughtie’s departure means there’s dwindling demand for grouchy old men on flagship political radio shows. Choose a staunch commitment to misunderstanding stories about video games and emoji. Choose doing those stories anyway. Choose turning on the radio and wondering why the fuck you aren’t on on a Sunday morning as well. Choose sitting on that black leather chair hosting mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows (Mastermind). Choose going over time at the end of it all, pishing your last few seconds on needlessly combative questions, nothing more than an obstacle to that day’s editors being credited. Choose your future. Choose life . . .”

I'm a mole, innit.