A former Cairo student was incarcerated for three years for sexually harassing women using social media and will face sexual assault charges this month in a case that rekindled a #MeToo moment in the country.
Ahmed Bassam Zaki, former student at the American University in Cairo, will appear in court again on January 9 on charges of indecent assault and blackmail investigated after scores of women joined an Instagram campaign to accuse him of sex crimes.
The case has drawn extensive attention from media, religious figures and women’s groups in a country where rights advocates say sexual harassment or abuse goes unpunished very often.
“Thanks to all the girls who believed in us when we told them that we will go to the court and get your rights,” Ahmed Ragheb, lawyer of the girls in the case, mentioned.
“We still have another round against the defendant before the criminal court.”
Neither lawyers for Zaki – who is in his early 20s and from a wealthy background – nor his family could be reached for a comment. Last week’s verdict can be appealed to a higher court.
The case surfaced after Instagram activist Nadeen Ashraf used the account Assault Police to encourage women to go public with allegations against Zaki dating back to 2016.
Ashraf said she was happy with Tuesday’s verdict and keenly awaiting the next court date that would decide the punishment for the “heftier and more violent crimes of sexual assault”.
“I think the court hearing on January 9 can truly set a precedent for all future sexual assault crimes in Egypt,” she said.
In September, the public prosecutor referred Zaki to the criminal court on charges of “sexually assaulting three girls under 18 years and threatening them alongside a fourth girl with exposing matters related to their honor”.
Zaki could face a life sentence or death penalty if the prosecution proves rape with evidence.
Zaki’s case activated a #MeToo movement in Egypt after it surfaced last July, with hundreds of women starting to speak up on social media, exposing several men and revealing a high-profile rape case that took place at a Cairo hotel as far back as 2014.
In August, the public prosecution arrested two suspects in that case and stated that seven others had fled the country. Lebanese authorities later handed three of them over to Egypt.
Egypt also passed a law in August giving victims the automatic right to anonymity in the conservative, Muslim-majority nation. This was in a bid to embolden more women to report sexual assault so that action can be taken in a as soon as possible.
Reda Eldanbouki, a lawyer and executive director of the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, accepted last week’s verdict and was awaiting the January verdict.
A United Nations survey in 2013 saw 99% of women had experienced harassment in Egypt, a nation where women have been accused of provoking sex crimes.
“We hope that Zaki would get a strong punishment in order to prevent similar cases in the future and reduce violence against women,” Eldanbouki stated.