Decades-old sexual trauma is being unearthed in a society that rarely discusses it, but can that bring about change?
An Egyptian court has sentenced a former student to three years in prison for sexually harassing two young women, in a case that sparked outrage on social media under the #MeToo hashtag.
The Cairo Economic Court, which tries cyber crimes, on Tuesday convicted Ahmed Bassam Zaki, a former student at the American University in Cairo, of blackmailing and sexually harassing two women.
Zaki, who is in his 20s, can appeal the verdict in a higher court.
Claims against Zaki emerged online in July in the form of testimonies – many from classmates – published by the Instagram account “Assault Police”, including an alleged rape and dozens of instances of assault against of girls and women, some involving blackmail.
Some alleged incidents involved girls as young as 14.
Zaki will also be tried by a criminal court on January 9 on charges of sexually assaulting three underage girls and attempting to blackmail them.
The #MeToo movement aims to hold accountable those involved in sexual misconduct and those who cover it up.
Zaki’s is the first conviction in a case that fuelled the movement in the Arab world’s most populous country.
The former student, who was arrested in July, was accused of mining the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs to target females.
He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them with if they did not have sex with him, according to the accusations.
In some instances, he threatened to send compromising pictures to family members.
Zaki hails from a wealthy family and studied at the American International School, one of Egypt’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo. AUC officials said he left the university in 2018.
Zaki’s case, activists say, shows that misogyny cuts across Egypt’s stark class lines.
Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation.
In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victims of such crimes.
Egypt’s parliament in August approved amendments to the criminal code granting victims of sexual assault the right to anonymity.
The recent #MeToo momentum laid bare shocking cases in the country, including a 2014 alleged gang rape of a woman at a luxury hotel in Cairo.
Allegations of sexual misconduct have also emerged against several rights activists and prominent journalists, but those allegations have not made their way to courts.