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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 14:36 GMT
Cairo street crowds target women
By Magdi Abdelhadi
Arab affairs analyst, BBC News

Egyptians are horrified by the news that women have been assaulted by hordes of young men in the centre of the capital, Cairo.

Cairo Eid crowds: Bloggers say the picture shows a shop owner giving shelter to a woman who was assaulted
Blogs broke the story that has scandalised Egyptians (Picture: misrdigital.com)
The incidents were first reported online by Egyptian bloggers, some of whom saw large number of men harassing the women and ripping off their clothes.

It all happened over the Eid al-Fitr period starting on 23 October, as thousands of young men thronged the streets of central Cairo to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

One blogger who took pictures of what happened dubbed the incidents "sexual voracity down town".

According to the bloggers, the attackers targeted veiled as well as unveiled women who happened to be on their own.

The state media ignored the incidents, but ordinary Egyptians where shocked when they heard for the first time eyewitness accounts broadcast on the private television channel Dream.

Women chased

"We saw one girl being chased by a man, her blouse torn off, she ran inside a restaurant," one eyewitness reported.

We took the girl inside and locked the door. There were four or five of us. But there were hundreds of young men outside trying to break down the door
Cairo shop owner

"Seconds later young boys were shouting that there was another one by the Miami cinema. We went there and saw another girl surrounded by a crowd trying to assault her. She managed to run inside a nearby building.

"A third girl jumped into a cab as she was being chased. But the taxi couldn't move because of the crowd. Then they tried to pull the driver out of the car then the girl herself," the witness told Dream TV.

One eyewitness was too embarrassed to recount what he saw: "There were youths harassing the young women. What a shame! I really can not say any more about it."

Social malaise

One blogger wrote that as the police failed to protect the women, shop keepers had to intervene.

A shop owner described to the TV station what happened: "We took the girl inside and locked the door. There were four or five of us. But there were hundreds of young men outside trying to break down the door."

The bloggers blamed the incidents on widespread sexual frustration among Egypt's youths.

Most of them cannot afford to get married and premarital sex is strictly forbidden.

One commentator said that this was evidence of the breakdown of law and order in Egypt.

Another said the state deployed the police only to suppress political dissent but could not care less about the welfare of its own citizens.

A psychologist, Amr Abu Khaleel, attributed the predatory behaviour to the possible use of drugs and the breakdown of traditional values.

One prominent writer and journalist, Nabeel Sharaf al-Deen, said that such behaviour was the symptom of a deeper malaise in Egyptian society and warned that such incidents were the first stirrings of much bigger social unrest.

A statement by the ministry of the interior played down the incident, adding that it had not received any complaints from the public. It urged those who had anything to report to contact the police.

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