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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Indie band The 1975 want to “sue the government” over the Electoral Commission’s latest advert

Frontman Matt Healy perhaps isn’t aware that the Electoral Commission is not, in fact, the government (or believes that this is part of a wider conspiracy).

How do you make registering to vote in the EU Referendum cool? It sounds like something  from The Thick of It, but judging by the Electoral Commission’s latest TV ad for their new voting guide, this was a genuine question posed in their meetings this month. The finished product seems inspired by teen Tumblrs with its killer combination of secluded woodlands, vintage laundrettes and bright pink neon lighting.

But indie-pop band The 1975 saw a different inspiration for the advert: the campaign for their latest album, I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (Yes, a title perhaps even more cumbersome than “The EU Referendum - You Can’t Miss It (Phase One)”).

Lead singer Matt Healy posted a picture of the guide with the caption “LOOK OUT KIDZ THE GOVERNMENT ARE STEALING OUR THOUGHTS!!” back on 17 May. The release of the TV spot only furthered Healy’s suspicions:

Healy perhaps isn’t aware that the Electoral Commission is not, in fact, the government (or believes that this is part of a wider conspiracy).

The 1975’s manager, Jamie Oborne, was similarly outraged.

Oborne added that he was particularly “disappointed” that the director for the band’s video for their song “Settle Down”, Nadia Marquard Otzen, also directed the Electoral Commission’s ad. But Otzen also directed the Electoral Commission’s visually similar Scottish Referendum campaign video, released back in September 2014: almost a year before The 1975 released the first promotional image for their album on Instagram on 2 June 2015.

Many were quick to point out that the band “didn’t invent neon lights”. The band know this. Their visual identity draws on an array of artists working with neon: Dan Flavin’s florescent lights, James Turrell’s “Raemar pink white”, Nathan Coley’s esoteric, and oddly-placed, Turner-shortlisted work, Bruce Nauman’s aphoristic signs, Chris Bracey’s neon pink colour palette, to just name a few – never mind the thousands of Tumblrs that undoubtedly inspired Healy’s aesthetics (their neon signs were exhibited at a show called Tumblr IRL). I see no reason why Otzen might not be similarly influenced by this artistic tradition.

Of course, The 1975 may be right: they have helped to popularise this particular vibe, moving it out of aesthetic corners of the internet and onto leaflets dropped through every letterbox in the country. But if mainstream organisations weren’t making vaguely cringeworthy attempts to jump on board a particular moment, how would we know it was cool at all?

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.