Accusations against Egyptian journalist of serial sexual assault bring #MeToo reckoning to Arab media community

Accusations against Egyptian journalist of serial sexual assault bring #MeToo reckoning to Arab media community
Egypt has become the epicentre of a resurgent #MeToo movement in the Middle East as growing numbers of women use social media to share accounts of sexual harassment and assault
6 min read
27 August, 2020
Egyptians hold up slogans during a demonstration in Cairo against sexual harassment [AFP/Getty 2013]
An Egyptian investigative journalist faced a barrage of sexual harassment and assault allegations this month as women across the region turn to social media in a growing #MeToo-style movement in the country.

Cultural stigma and discriminatory laws have long prevented women in the Middle East and North Africa from voicing their experiences as survivors of sexual assault or harassment.

In recent weeks, Egypt has become the center of a resurgent #MeToo movement as growing numbers of women are speaking out against the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment.

Social media has been at the heart of this movement, with an anonymous Instagram account named "Assault Police" sharing accusations against a number of wealthy young men, including a group accused of drugging and raping a woman at a luxury Cairo hotel in 2014.

The accusations have seen the arrest of Ahmed Zaki, a 22-year-old who confessed to blackmail and at least six counts of assault, and prominent writer Mohamed Hashem, accused of multiple instances of assault. Hashem has denied the charges in court.

Egyptian authorities have also ordered the arrest of suspects accused of involvement in the alleged gang rape at Cairo's five-star Fairmont Hotel.

A growing number of women have now accused Hisham Allam, an Egyptian investigative journalist and university instructor, of sexual harassment and assault. The prominent reporter worked on both the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers investigations. He has denied the allegations.

'I have lived with guilt and shame'

The allegations first emerged on a blog titled Daftar Hakayat, which has now published six testimonies by women referring to alleged harassment and assault by a journalist referred to only as H.A.

The reports were shared widely on social media, often accompanied by the Arabic hashtag: #Hisham_Allam_is_a_Rapist.

Although Daftar Hakayat has not confirmed the man referred to in the testimonies is Allam, the journalist himself has identified himself as the accused in a post on Facebook decrying what he said was a "coordinated" campaign against him.

The first testimony describes an alleged violent beating and rape by the man referred to as H.A. The journalist is alleged to have driven the victim, a young journalist student, to an empty apartment in a secluded area under the guise of "meeting someone important".

"I remember feeling like I would never get out of that place alive," the woman wrote. "I was caught between choosing to stay in an isolated place and getting in the car with the person who had just raped me upstairs."

"For years, I have lived with guilt and shame. In the first year, I thought a lot about leaving my parents' house, because I felt ashamed, I felt that I belonged to the streets and didn't deserve a good life," she added. "I've decided to forget what had happened to survive."

The second account alleges H.A. grabbed a woman by her legs while they were in her car. The following testimonies describe a number of forms of alleged sexual threats and harassment by H.A.

Read more: How TikTok became Egypt's latest battleground against women

Seperately, Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim published three additional testimonies describing incidents of alleged sexual harassment and assault by Allam.

"I didn't have a car, so Allam offered to give me a ride... On 6th of October bridge, Allam sexually harassed me," reads an account Erhaim personally verified. "He abused me until I had a panic attack and I could not breathe. I can't remember more details. It was horrific."

"I didn't report because back then sexual harassment reports were not being taken seriously. There was a high chance that I would be harassed by police officers too," the testimony adds.

All of the women who have come forward say they met the journalist either in a professional capacity or as students under his instruction.

'False testimonies'

The Egyptian reporter has denied all of the allegations against him, going as far as to enlist female friends to submit false testimonies to Daftar Hakayat in a bid to question the credibility of accusations published by the blog.

Daftar Hakayat deleted the accounts in question after Allam posted a video, titled "How to assassinate a journalist with false testimonies", describing how he and two others submitted fabricated stories to the blog.

The blog countered that it believes the victims of sexual assault and Allam's attempts to discredit the testimonies shared by Daftar Hakayat should be ignored.

The Egyptian journalist also reached out to a former student to request she share positive things about him in a public post, independent Egyptian outlet Mada Masr reported.

Allam is currently employed as a part-time lecturer at the Ahram Canadian University, the Future University in Egypt and the October University for Modern Sciences and Arts, according to his LinkedIn page. 

Yasser Sayed Ahmed, a lawyer employed by Allam, who threatened legal action against both the owners of Daftar Hakayat and the women behind the testimonies, later announced he was withdrawing from the journalist's legal team.

Investigative Lebanese media outlet Daraj, the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) organisation and the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) have released statements saying they have suspended their work with Allam. Both Daraj and ARIJ have opened internal investigations into Allam's alleged misconduct.

One of the incidents - the attempted rape of a Syrian journalist - is alleged to have taken place during a workshop coordinated by ARIJ in Amman, Jordan, in 2015.

An online petition by women journalists calling for further investigations into Allam's conduct and better protections for women in the industry has since garnered dozens of signatures.

Speaking to Mada Masr, a lawyer with knowledge of the case, said a legal team is currently considering filing a case against the journalist. The team is working with a number of journalists who are soliciting testimonies from women who have worked with Allam in recent years, the lawyer said.

According to reports, Egyptian authorities may now launch a criminal case into the journalist after the National Council for Women, a state institution, said it was "closely following" the allegations.

Allam did not respond to a request for comment issued by The New Arab, but has stated on Twitter that he "refutes" all "false testimonies" against him.

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