Egyptian parliament approves harsher punishment for sexual harassment crimes

A mural depicting anti-sexual harassment message and reading “Safe cities” is seen at a highway in Cairo, Egypt.

The Egyptian parliament on Monday approved harsher penalties for sexual harassment and related crimes and upgraded them to felony offences, aiming to curb sex-related assaults in a nation where women have long felt disadvantaged.

Sex crimes have been an increasing topic of conversation in recent years in the conservative, Muslim-majority nation, with several high profile court cases coming to varying conclusions.

Dozens of Egyptians began posting accounts of sexual assault on social media last year, but campaigners say there remains a deep-rooted bias in Egypt to place more blame on women for behaviour deemed provocative than on men for sex crimes.

Public prosecutors in May shelved a case over a woman’s allegation that she was gang raped at a luxury hotel in Cairo in 2014 because of “insufficient evidence” against the defendants.

Referring to earlier laws passed in 2014, a parliamentary committee said in a report on Monday that “although the punishments listed were a quantum leap at the time, they did not achieve the necessary deterrence.”

In the measure approved on Monday, the penalty for sexual harassment was increased from a minimum of one year in prison to a minimum of five years, or a penalty of up to 300,000 Egyptian pounds (an equivalent of $19,100), up from 20,000 pounds.

In situations where a power imbalance was in place because of a professional or familial relationship, or in cases involving the use of weapons or accomplices, the penalty was increased from a minimum of two to a minimum of seven years, in addition to a 10-fold increase of the maximum fine to 500,000 Egyptian pounds.

The penalties for stalking and general harassment were also increased substantially.

In August, the parliament approved a law protecting the identity of victims of sexual harassment and assault, after a social media campaign led to the arrest of a suspected sex offender.

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