Egyptians said on Wednesday that attitudes towards women need to change to end sexual violence in the north African country, after a high-profile gang rape case was shelved.
Public prosecutors on Tuesday freed four suspects in a case involving a woman who said she was drugged and raped in 2014 at the Fairmont Hotel in the capital, Cairo, as evidence amassed during nearly nine months of investigation was insufficient.
“The problem is not only with the law, but it is mainly with social attitudes towards women,” said Entessar El-Saeed, director of the Cairo Foundation for Development and Law, pointing to the fact that marital rape is not a crime in Egypt.
“There is no doubt that the decision is frustrating, but this does not mean the end of the road. It will not make us surrender to the phenomenon of sexual harassment and violence against women,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Socially conservative attitudes in many parts of Egypt mean women are reluctant to report sexual violence and harassment for fear of being judged and blamed, and because they believe they are unlikely to get justice.
A 2017 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found Cairo to be the most dangerous megacity for women, and 99% of women in Egypt interviewed by the United Nations in 2013 reported sexual harassment.
In the Fairmont rape case, the woman posted an anonymous account of the incident on the Instagram account Assault Police, encouraged by an outpouring of women’s stories online with the #MeToo movement, before filing a formal complaint in July.
The woman, who was 17 years old at the time of the incident, said she went to a party with the men before they raped her, which led some people to blame her for the attack.
Several witnesses in the case were arrested on drug and debauchery charges in what some human rights activists said was part of a tendency by authorities to prioritise traditional social morality at the expense of women’s rights.
The prosecution said in a statement that 39 people were interviewed but the testimonies were contradictory and it was difficult to gather reliable evidence six years after the incident.
Egyptians took to social media to express their frustration.
“I lost confidence and belief that there will be a change in the society’s attitude towards women’s issues,” said Facebook user Martha Fawzi, a psychologist.
Others complained that life in Egypt was not as it was portrayed in the popular Ramadan television drama, “El Tawoos” or “The Peacock”, where a woman from a poor family won in court after being raped by a group of wealthy influential men.
“As we watch in the final episode of the series that justice is being done to the rapists, we hear about the public prosecutor’s decision in the same night,” Mohamed Eweis said on Facebook. “It seems that justice only happens in the drama.”