Activists fight holiday sex harassment

Wearing vests painted with the slogan ‘Anti-harassment,’ volunteers confronted a group of young boys harassing women Friday near Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The volunteers’ efforts largely failed, but highligted the extent of the sexual harassment scourge facing Egypt, especially during the Eid al-Adha holiday.

CAIRO — A group of Egyptian men had a mission for this year’s Eid al-Adha, Islam’s biggest holiday, which began Friday. They wanted to make an effort to stop sexual harassment of women, which in past years has spiked in Cairo during the holiday celebrations with the crowds of rowdy men in the streets.

Their idea was simple — to patrol downtown Cairo and shame men who harass women by cornering them and spray-painting “I’m a harasser” on their backs.

That proved pretty much impossible however. The small group was outnumbered by boys and men who mocked them, some of them blaming women for bringing harassment by the way they dress.

Gathering Friday afternoon on Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, about 20 men, mostly university students, donned neon yellow vests marked “Anti-Harassment.”

They steeled themselves for confrontation with the throngs of young men and boys who had taken to the streets with spending money they received as holiday gifts on the first day of the four-day Eid, or Festival of Sacrifice, celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

Many in the crowds were blaring air horns and other holiday noisemakers.

“There’s no solution but grabbing them and trying to stop them,” said organizer Shadi Hussien, 19. “If there were (anti-harassment) laws, we could discuss those. And if the police did their jobs, then we wouldn’t be here.”

Hussien and the group of mostly strangers who he organized through Facebook and Twitter said their effort is a last-ditch attempt at forcing the new Egyptian government to respond to sexual harassment, a reality of daily life for Egyptian women.

Notably, no women showed up to join their group. “No women are coming today, it’s too dangerous,” Hussien said. “They might be attacked.”

In past years, the Eid has seen major instances of harassment, with crowds of young men groping passing women, so heavily that women had to flee into shops, and for days afterward newspapers decried the mob attacks.