14 July 2020
Egypt is experiencing a renewed social media movement against sexual abuse that led to many accusations against a single man.
Cairo police arrested 21-year-old Ahmed Bassam Zaki at his home 10 days ago. The case has captured the country's attention, partly because those involved come from rich and powerful families.
Women's rights activists say they hope the government's quick action signals a change in how the country deals with accusations of sexual wrongdoing.
More than 100 girls and women describe meeting Zaki in person and online. Their individual accusations include rape, assault, and blackmail. Some of the accusers were children when the reported crimes took place.
Activists say the case shows that sex abuse is widespread in the country. Many in Egypt had argued in the past that only poor and uneducated people carried out sex crimes.
"What's before this case is totally different from what's after," said Nihad Abuel-Komsan. She is head of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights and a lawyer representing some of the reported victims.
Sexual wrongdoing is a complex problem in Egypt. The country's conservative culture ties female sexual innocence to a family's social image. In courts, the responsibility of proof lies heavily on the victims of such crimes.
In a statement, the public prosecutor's officer said the accused man admitted to blackmailing at least six girls. He reportedly threatened to send sensitive images of them to their families if the girls cut off contact with him. Several attempts by The Associated Press to contact Zaki or his lawyer were unsuccessful.
Amr Adib, Egypt's popular television show host, reported on the case recently. He said he had talked with Zaki's father, a high-level official at a telecommunication company. The man reportedly said that his son dismissed the accusations.
Abuel-Komsan says at least 10 women have filed official reports with the police.
Activists created an Instagram account, @assaultpolice, to gather accusations, said Sabah Khodir, a United States-based writer who helps run the account. She said there are more than 100 reports so far.
"We are demanding to be listened to ... We are just using what we have, lending our voices to hopefully create some kind of change," she said.
A court has ordered that Zaki remain in jail while an investigation continues. The prosecutor has urged any other possible victims to make official reports.
Last week, Egypt's government proposed a measure to increase protections of the identities of victims of sexual wrongdoing. Parliament is to consider the proposal. If approved, it will be sent to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who can approve or reject the measure.
The charges against Zaki cover suspected crimes carried out over at least three years. Many of the accusations on social media appear to be from students at the American International School, one of the country's costliest private high schools. Many others appear to be from students at American University in Cairo. Zaki went to both schools.
University officials said Zaki left the school in 2018. He apparently was admitted to the European Union Business School in Spain, in an online program, last year.
In February, he traveled to Barcelona to study at EUBS on site. Three weeks later, school officials suspended and later expelled him after learning of accusations against him, including some by students at the school. EUBS has since filed a criminal report in cooperation with @assaultpolice to demand Spanish police fully investigate Zaki's reported actions.
The head of the American University in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, said university policy treats sexual abuse of any kind as unacceptable. However, he said he would not comment on an ongoing case.
The recent reports against Zaki led Egypt's Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world's top religious center, to speak out about sexual crimes.
I'm Caty Weaver.
The Associated Press and Reuters news agencies reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words In This Story
assault - n. the crime of trying or threatening to hurt someone physically
blackmail - n. the crime of threatening to tell secret information about someone unless the person being threatened gives you money or does what you want
prosecutor - n. a lawyer who represents the side in a court case that accuses a person of a crime and who tries to prove that the person is guilty
host - n. a person who talks to guests on a television or radio show