Egypt jails harassing student who sparked malicious MeToo campaign

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

A 22-year-old student has been sentenced to three years in prison for sexually harassing two women using the hashtag #MeToo on social media.

Ahmed Bassem Zaki was arrested in July in Cairo, where he attended the elite American University.

The economic court, which tries cyber crimes, found Bassem Zaki guilty of sending sexual photos to one of them and repeatedly contacting the other without her consent.

Zaki also faces charges of assault and blackmail against three underage girls, which will be tried in a criminal court in January.

The case began in July when several women posted anonymous allegations against Zaki on an Instagram account called Assault Police.

Many of them were his classmates and they alleged rape and assault as well as blackmail, including against girls as young as 14.

A statement from the prosecutor general's office said Zaki had admitted contacting six women via social media, receiving photos from them and then threatening to send the photos to their families after they chose to end contact with him.

The case became notorious in Egypt, where women's rights activists say that sexual assault is endemic and not taken seriously.

Justice remains unequal for women and often hinges on their social class and wealth. An inadequate penal code, few prosecutions of sexual attackers, weak sexual harassment policies and harsh morality laws have worked to silence women, say women’s rights advocates.

Sexual assaults have long gone unpunished in Egypt. Women’s groups and activists have documented mass sexual assaults at demonstrations, religious festivals and other gatherings since 2006. Egyptian victims even have a name for being surrounded by their attackers: the circle of hell.

A study by UN Women in 2013 found that 99% of women they spoke to in Egypt had been sexually harassed, either verbally or physically. However, there are few prosecutions for rape, and sexual harassment was only made illegal in 2014.