Egypt first lady plays down women harassment reports

CAIRO (AFP) — Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak has played down allegations of rampant sexual harassment in her country, accusing the media, and implicitly Islamist militants, of exaggerating the reports.

“Egyptian men always respect Egyptian women,” the pro-government Al-Ahram newspaper on Friday quoted the wife of President Hosni Mubarak as saying in remarks aired on Thursday by Al-Arabiya television.

The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR) released a survey earlier this year showing that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women in Egypt are sexually harassed.

“This gives the impression that the streets in Egypt are not safe. That is not true… The media have exaggerated,” Mubarak said.

“Maybe one, two or even 10 incidents occurred. Egypt is home to 80 million people. We can’t talk of a phenomenon. Maybe a few scatterbrained youths are behind this crime.

“And maybe some people wanted to make it seem as though the streets of Egypt are not safe so girls and women stay at home. This could be their agenda,” she said in a reference to Islamist militants.

Mubarak’s statements come less than a month after an Egyptian judge sentenced a man to three years in jail with hard labour for groping a woman on a Cairo street and ordered him to pay his victim 894 dollars in compensation.

The sentence was unusual for its severity and unprecedented in the male-dominated Middle East.

“This is the first case we know of, where someone was jailed for groping,” Engy Ghozlan, an activist with the ECWR, said after the October 21 judgment.

“We welcome the ruling. The judge was obviously setting an example.”