The Egyptian revolution was hailed as an example of protestors adopting a non-violent ethos in their engagement with the enemies. In retrospect, the revolutionary struggle to remove Mubarak involved much bloodshed and violence. Tahrir Square, which came to symbolise the revolutionary spirit of Egypt, assumed an especially esteemed status: it was associated with images of men and women standing side by side in protest, Christians and Muslims joining together in prayers, and activists from different ideological affiliations working together towards a common cause. Tahrir square became a symbol of the exercise of a new form of citizenship that was not mediated by gender hierarchies: women slept overnight in tents set up in the middle of the square; they led marches and gave speeches, and mobilised others to join in large numbers.

There has been a shift in public opinion from celebrating the image of women participating in Tahrir Square to believing that women should avoid such protest spaces because they are too dangerous. If fear has been instilled in the hearts of many women and their families, and it is unlikely that women’s presence in Tahrir Square will be anything like it was two years ago when millions participated in protests

Case study

This Case Study examined the use of sexual violence against women and men in order to deter the opposition from engaging in protests and demonstrations in a context of a country in transition, Egypt. It advanced a number of arguments. First, that politically motivated sexual violence has a number of distinguishing features from the socially motivated sexual harassment that is generally prevalent in society. Whilst both contribute to discouraging women from assuming an active public role, they have different implications vis-a-vis who to hold accountable. Second, men were also been the targets of sexual assault, though their narratives have rarely been documented or recognised, and the law does not offer possibilities for redress. Third, due to a number of historical and contextual factors associated with Egypt – which has been in the throes of revolutionary activism – there has been a strong call for the perpetrators to be tried and the government to be held accountable for complicity. This has, in turn, reactivated calls for the revision of the criminal code to be more effective as a tool for addressing sexual violence.


The Case Study drew upon primary and secondary data in both Arabic and English. In order to understand the dynamics of politically motivated sexual assault, five in-depth interviews were conducted with women and men who have been the victim of various forms of physical and sexual assault. As well as this, testimonies were gathered by El Nadim Center for Victims of Torture and Trauma, as well as material from 16 focus groups (conducted across five governorates), in order to acquire a sense of the perceptions of the wider population on sexual assault and women’s own experiences in Egypt. 

Sexuality, Development and Non-conforming Desire in the Arab World: The Case of Lebanon and Egypt

  • Neither Egypt nor Lebanon can be said to offer social or legal environments that are supportive of sexual and gender nonconformists (SGNs) – at least not at the present time.
  • Lebanese police and judiciary continue to target SGNs, particularly those from the most disadvantaged parts of society. However, some of Lebanon’s SGNs can now count on the social and legal backing of a steadily growing pro-SGN circle.
  • Egypt still retains its colonial-era laws regulating sex.
  • Although Egypt’s Constitution does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the state’s harassment of SGNs clearly contradicts Articles 58 and 57 of the current constitution.

Sexuality and the Law: Case Studies from Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal and South Africa

  • Engaging with the law and seeking policy reform is potentially a dangerous activity especially in countries which do uphold the rule of law or where laws are in rapid flux and have little correspondence to lived social realities.
  • Sexuality is significant in relation to law and development
  • Sexuality should be explored as a broad concept and not to be confined by specific forms of categorisation of sexualities but identities and constructs can also provide entry points and modalities for legal recognition, funding for essential services and other advantages.
  • Even when the rule of law is strong, this does not ensure that the law and legal processes are appropriate or accessible.

Politically Motivated Sexual Assault and the Law in Violent Transitions: A Case Study from Egypt

  • The current legal system does not recognise men as victims of sexual assault.

Associated Blogs

Shaming the shameless: the politics of sexual assault in post-Mubarak's Egypt exposed

Mariz Tadros examines the organised and politically motivated sexual assaults of women and men as part of the Arab Spring uprisings.