The #MeToo movement has come to Egypt, but women who come forward with accusations are facing resistance from all corners — including the country’s government. Despite knowing she was likely to face blowback, May El Shamy, a 28-year-old fashion editor, recently became the first woman in the country to file a police report against a superior at work, according to The Washington Post. El Shamy, who is married, has accused Dandarawy el Hawary, the editor in chief of the privately-owned newspaper Youm7, of sexually harassing her both verbally and physically. Hawary, a staunch government ally, has denied the allegations saying they are baseless, and a shadowy online smear campaign has since emerged claiming that Shamy is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned group considered a terrorist organization by the government.
In a Facebook post, El Shamy detailed her decision to come forward, noting that she would have prefered “not to talk about this matter” because of how it could affect her work. Initially, she said, she tried to report her boss’ behavior internally but decided to go to police after it became clear that the newspaper had no serious intentions of pursuing the matter. In a subsequent post, she also denied allegations that she was part of the Muslim Brotherhood, noting that her “case has no political tendencies nor dimensions at all … My case has to do with sexual harassment only.”
While police are currently investigating El Shamy’s harassment claims against Hawary, many on social media have speculated that his unabashed support of the Egyptian government will make it unlikely for him to face prosecution. Moreover, others who have made allegations have been met with harsh responses.
Last month, human rights activist Amal Fathy was accused by the government of “spreading false news” to undermine the country’s image after she shared a Facebook video detailing an experience of sexual harassment she alleged occurred during a visit to a bank. She was punished with a two-year sentence that was eventually suspended in exchange for a steep fine, but she is slated to go on trial again after the government subsequently charged her with being a member of an “outlaw group.” In a similar case, a Cairo court sentenced a Lebanese tourist to eight years in prison for spreading false news, attacking religion, and public indecency, after she spoke out in a Facebook video about the rampant sexual harassment she faced while visiting the country. In response to international outrage, the government agreed to cut the tourist’s jail sentence short last month and allow her to leave Egypt, but not before she paid a significant fine.
Despite these discouraging signs, El Shamy says she’s hopeful that her example will encourage other women to come forward. And there’s also reason for optimism — in recent years, lawyers and activists have seen increases in the number of reports of harassment and assault, as well as increased police willingness to investigate claims. In 2017, the Thomas Reuters Foundation named Cairo the most dangerous megacity in the world for women.