- By Josh Rogin
The White House on Friday called on the Egyptian government to combat a wave of sexual assaults, and urged President Mohammed Morsy’s administration to avoid blaming the victims for the violence sweeping the country.
The White House was responding to reports of alarming increases of sexual assault and gang rape in Egypt over the last few weeks, including this March 25 New York Times report stating that in Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square, where the 2011 revolution began, "the sheer number of women sexually abused and gang raped in a single public square had become too big to ignore."
The issue first came to the widespread attention of the American media in 2011, when CBS news correspondent Lara Logan was violently sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square while covering the protests. Opposition party leaders blame the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, some of whose members have made comments that appear to blame the victims. Some attackers have said they were paid by the Brotherhood to intimidate women protesters.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Friday that the Obama administration was "deeply concerned" about the rise in sexual violence in Egypt and called on the Egyptian government to do more to prevent the rapes and bring the attackers to justice.
"Sexual violence, including gang rape, has occurred during recent demonstrations in Egypt, and this is a cause of great concern to the United States, the international community, and to many Egyptians. These victims are the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of Egypt," he said. "The Egyptian government has a responsibility to take legal measures to prevent sexual violence and to prosecute people who are involved in such crimes. The idea that some Egyptians are blaming the victims for being raped and assaulted is abhorrent. We strongly condemn these views and reaffirm the rights of women to express themselves in public squares alongside men, as well as the responsibility of the Egyptian government to protect them."
Separately on Friday, the State Department alerted Americans in Egypt, particularly women, to be careful.
"Political unrest, which intensified prior to the constitutional referendum in December 2012 and the anniversary in 2013 of Egypt’s 25th January Revolution, is likely to continue in the near future," the State Department said in a Friday travel alert. "Of specific concern is a rise in gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the specific targets of sexual assault."
Several major cities have now been the sites of violent clashes between police and protesters, and while U.S. citizens are not necessarily targeted, Westerners are sometimes caught up in the melee, the State Department alert said.
"The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt, as even peaceful ones can quickly become violent, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse," the alert stated. "U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to carry identification and, if moving about alone, a cell phone or other means of communication that works in Egypt."