On Monday, an informal grouping of women launched a “White Ribbon national apology campaign”.
The campaign comes after female activists protesting against the nature of the constitutional referendum on 25 May and several female reporters covering the event were molested by civilian-clothed ruling party supporters.
The assaults, some of which were caught on video, triggered an international outcry and cast a pall over a move intended by President Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party to be a strong signal of reformist change.
“Protesters, activists and journalists were brutally harassed and sexually molested by NDP thugs with the assistance and blessing of the police forces,” said a statement by the campaigners.
“We will be wearing and distributing a white ribbon as a symbol of our personal apology to those who were harassed and a demand for a public official one from the NDP leadership and the Ministry of Interior,” it said.
On Saturday, the Egyptian journalists’ union demanded the dismissal of Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.
The “White Ribbon” movement was initiated by Ghada Shahbandar – a teacher and member of the Kifaya (Enough) movement which staged the 25 May protest – together with two other women, a television presenter and a housewife.
Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt
“Since we initiated this campaign, by emails and SMS (text messaging), we have had tremendous feedback and support … It was originally a personal initiative but we are trying to work out a more organised plan to maintain the momentum,” Shahbander said.
She said that 4000 ribbons had already been produced and that the official launch of the initiative would take place on 1 June, when protesters gather in front of the journalists union building in Cairo where the incidents took place.
In a parallel initiative, a leading Muslim feminist called on Friday for all people to wear black on Wednesday to protest against “police brutality, beating and sexual harassment”.
“It has received a very good response. I posted it on the internet on Friday at noon. The next day it was all over the place,” Hiba Rauf Izzat, a political science professor at Cairo University, said.
The internet, including a variety of blogs on Egyptian politics, has become the tool of choice for reform activists to exchange ideas and communicate since public discontent with Mubarak’s rule started growing this year.
“I just mirrored the sentiment of thousands of people,” Izzat said. “It’s not a movement, not a party, it’s just citizens fiercely defending what is left of their public space.”
“Since we initiated this campaign, by emails and SMS (text messaging), we have had tremendous feedback and support … It was originally a personal initiative but we are trying to work out a more organised plan to maintain the momentum”
Under international and domestic pressure to implement democratic reforms, Egypt held the referendum on a constitutional amendment allowing independent candidates to challenge the sitting president for the first time.
The Egyptian authorities said 83% of voters backed the amendment, although pro-reform activists protested that the changes do not go far enough to change the current system, which has granted Mubarak the presidency unopposed for four consecutive six-year terms since 1981.
The alleged abuses followed hundreds of opposition arrests over a wave of pro-reform protests in Egypt in the weeks leading to the election, and drew international condemnation.
The Egyptian government downplayed the beating and sexual groping of the women as “emotional tension”, but US President George Bush criticised the clubbing of the protesters.
The Nasserite weekly newspaper Al-Arabi joined the chorus of protest on Monday. “We call on President Mubarak to apologise to the Egyptian people,” read its top headline.