Egyptian anti-harassment policewoman slammed over violent arrest

Egyptian anti-harassment policewoman slammed over violent arrest
Blog: Officer Nashwa Mahmoud took the law into her own hands to deal with alleged sexual harrassers on Cairo's Metro system.
3 min read
22 Jul, 2015
Female Egyptian police officers are becoming a more common sight on Cairo's streets [Facebook]

Egyptian police officer Nashwa Mahmoud has sparked controversy after a video purporting to show her beating alleged sexual harassers in Cairo during the Eid holidays went viral on social media.

The debate has been divided between those who criticised her use of violence instead of arresting the harassers and following standard procedure, and others who commended her "brave" behaviour after growing fed up with the culture of impunity surrounding sexual harassment.

Egypt's police has increased the number of women officers on the streets and public transportation to combat sexual harassment, a common crime that appears to become particularly widespread during public holidays.

In 2013, a UN report said that 99.3 percent of women in Egypt had been subjected to one form or another of sexual harassment.

Among those critical of the officer was Fathi Farid, coordinator of local human rights group I Saw Harassment, which monitors and documents sexual harassment in Egypt, along with raising awareness about the issue.

In a Facebook post, Farid claimed Mahmoud was involved in cases of sexual violence against men and women during pre-revolution protests, particularly during the dispersal of a protest outside the Shura Council on 6 April 2010.

"At the time, charges of sexual assault were filed against her to the public prosecutor, but he did not pay much attention to the case… instead, he said 'if you see her, let us know and we will arrest her'," said Farid.

Others also said Mahmoud's response to the harasser should be treated as police brutality - a concept which is no stranger to thousands of activists and protesters, before and after the revolution and coup.

On the other hand, many people welcomed her behaviour and defended her against criticism. Twitter users even launched a hashtag in solidarity with her.

Translation: For those of you criticising how the policewomen are dealing with sexual harassers in Eid and calling this violence, what would you do if someone harassed you? Pat him on the back?

Translation: If your parents did not raise you properly, officer Nashwa will do it instead. We need another officer Nashwa in Saudi Arabia.

In 2014, Egypt passed a law criminalising sexual harassment, with a fine of LE 3,000 to LE 5,000 ($419 to $700) and/or a jail sentence of no less than six months.

The law is rarely enforced, with a lack of specialised police and an over-riding fear among survivors of the social stigma associated with sexual harassment.

However, I Saw Harassment reported a relative decline in the number of harassment cases on the second day of Eid, compared with the first day, which they attributed to a huge police presence.