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.

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.