By Virginia Lyon

In his last week as Egypt’s leader, interim president Adly Mansour approved a decree criminalizing sexual harassment. Prior to the decree issued in early June Egypt’s laws failed to discuss or even mention sexual harassment. Rather, sexual harassment was referred to loosely as “indecent assault” and carried no punishment. Now, however, sexual harassment is punishable and defined. Under the new law sexual harassment is any sexual or pornographic suggestion expressed through words, signs or acts.

As far as punishment goes, Mansour’s decree means that those convicted of sexual harassment face between six months and five years in jail or fines between $400 and $7,000. In addition, while the minimum sentence for sexual harassment starts at six months, it rises to two years when the harasser holds a position of power over the victim whether through job title, uniform, or the use of a weapon. The new law also makes sure to specify that if the harasser is a repeat offender the penalty doubles.

While critics acknowledge that the decree may be a step in the right direction, they also claim that it does not go nearly far enough to combat such a serious problem. One of the founders of Egypt’s “I Saw Harassment” campaign against sexual violence, Fathi Farid, references judicial discretion as an issue. He argues that the penalties outlined by the decree hold no value because the judge is given the power to choose whether or not the punishment is jail time or a fine with no guidelines or restrictions. Farid also points out that while combatting sexual harassment is important, the decree does nothing to confront sexual assault, which remains a pressing problem in Egypt.[1]

While many argue the decree is not enough to combat sexual harassment there is no denying that the legislation takes a necessary step in addressing a problem that Egyptians face every day. In 2013 the United Nations released a report that highlighted just how serious sexual harassment is throughout the country. The report entitled “Study on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt” revealed that over 99% of Egyptian women have experienced some form of street harassment. Furthermore, 95% of respondents were in favor of laws that criminalized sexual harassment with severe penalties. This is no surprise when a majority of respondents reported that because of sexual harassment they do not even feel safe or secure on the streets, in taxis, or on public transportation.[2] As the new law takes effect it will be important to watch exactly how it is implemented and whether these statistics can change.

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[1] Salma Abdelaziz, “Egypt Criminalizes Sexual Harassment”, CNN, June 10, 2014

[2] United Nations. Study on Ways and Methods to Eliminate Sexual Harassment in Egypt