The overall objective of our work in Egypt is to improve the responsiveness, conflict sensitivity, gender sensitivity and accountability of security and broader governance providers, with a special emphasis on promoting gender sensitive security provision. Work started in late 2011.
Gender, rights and security
Highly visible and active during the protests that toppled President Mubarak, Egyptian women have since faced a backlash. Their rights have been called into question and sexual assaults and harassment of women in public places have reached alarming levels.
As part of our regional work on women, peace and security, we have been working with Egyptian women to address issues of women’s political participation, their personal safety and their access to security through research, workshops and conferences. Our report "It's dangerous to be the first": Security barriers to women's public participation in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen made recommendations for how governments and civil society should address safety issues that impede women’s ability to participate in public and political life.
Our recent research looks at the work of Egypt's Violence Against Women (VAW) unit. Originally established by the Ministry of Interior (MOI) in 2013, it was expanded nationally following the violent sexual assaults of nine women by mobs of men in Tahrir Square during celebrations for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s victory in the presidential race in June 2014. The report, Violence against women in Egypt: Prospects for improving police response, looks at the unit’s work and key challenges it faces, and the deeper institutional changes that are needed, with key recommendations to the MOI for ways to improve Egypt’s policing response to violence against women.
This work has been supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
After mass protests toppled Egypt’s long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the country’s powerful military has continued to dominate the post-revolution period. After an electoral victory by the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party in 2012, a popularly backed military intervention ended Mohamed Morsi’s presidency on 3 July 2013. Retired general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was subsequently elected to the presidency with an overwhelming majority in May 2014.
Egyptian politics are now highly polarised, and the new government has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, jailed its leaders and arrested many of its supporters. Militant groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis have been on the rise, with regular attacks taking place against the security forces in the capital Cairo and across Egypt. The historically marginalised Sinai peninsula has become a conflict hotspot, and security forces have been carrying out a large scale offensive since October 2014 targeting militants.
In this context, space for public debate has been shrinking, with the right to conduct public gatherings restricted by a November 2013 protest law and the independence of civil society organisations put into question by the government’s attempt in November 2014 to enforce a restrictive Mubarak-era NGO law.
Security provision in Egypt
Grievances against police abuses were central to mobilising Egyptians to revolt in January 2011, alongside demands for greater political participation and more social and economic rights. The police under Mubarak had become a symbol of abusive and corrupt power and police stations were burned down throughout the country during the revolution. Since then, conflict in Egypt has continued to flare-up around police operations such as the 2012 Port Said massacre, when the police failed to intervene in a riot and 72 football fans were killed, and police special forces operations to counter militants in Sinai.
Police response to violence against women is a key security provision issue in Egypt, in particular as there has been a rise in reports of violent assaults and sexual harassment of women in public places in the last few years. A shocking series of mob sexual assaults against women at protests has taken place since 2011, reducing women’s access to public space and ability to make their voices heard. Women’s rights campaigners in Egypt have been strongly advocating for a better police response to violence against women, lobbying the Egyptian government and undertaking grassroots initiatives to report and prevent harassment. In 2014 the government has responded with a new Violence Against Women unit in the Ministry of Interior. The unit remains small, and improving the gender sensitivity of the police remains a critical issue in Egypt.