Women demand apology over vote violence

CAIRO (AFP) — Egyptian women have launched two separate initiatives, one calling on citizens to wear black clothes and the other a white ribbon, to protest the assault of several women during last week’s referendum.
Female activists protesting against the nature of the constitutional referendum submitted to Egyptians on May 25 and several female reporters covering the event were molested by civilian-clothed ruling party supporters.

The assaults, some of which were caught on video, triggered an international outcry and cast a pall over a move intended by President Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party as a strong signal of reformist change. On Monday, an informal grouping of women launched a “White Ribbon national apology campaign” following the molestation.

“Protesters, activists and journalists were brutally harassed and sexually molested by NDP thugs with the assistance and blessing of the police forces,” said a statement.

“We will be wearing and distributing a white ribbon as a symbol of our personal apology to those who were harassed and a demand for a public official one from the NDP leadership and the ministry of interior,” it said.

On Saturday, the Egyptian journalists’ union already demanded the dismissal of Interior Minister Habib Al-Adli. The `White Ribbon’ movement was initiated by Ghada Shahbandar — a teacher and member of the Kefaya (Enough) movement which staged the May 25 protest — together with two other women, a television presenter and a housewife.

“Since we initiated this campaign, by emails and SMS, we have had tremendous feedback and support… It was originally a personal initiative but we are trying to work out a more organised plan to maintain the momentum,” Shahbender told AFP.

She said that 4,000 ribbons had already been produced and that the official launch of the initiative would take place on June 1, when protesters gather in front of the journalists union building in Cairo where the incidents took place a week earlier.

In a parallel initiative, a leading Muslim feminist posted a call Friday on the Internet for all people to wear black on Wednesday to protest “police brutality, beating and sexual harassment.”

“It has received a very good response. I posted it on the Internet Friday at noon. The next day it was all over the place,” Heba Rauf Ezzat, a political science professor at Cairo University, told AFP.

The Internet, including a variety of blogs on Egyptian politics, have become the tool of choice for reform activists to exchange ideas and communicate since public discontent with Mubarak’s authoritarian started growing this year.

“I just mirrored the sentiment of thousands of people,” Ezzat said. “It’s not a movement, not a party, it’s just citizens fiercely defending what is left of their public space.”

Under international and domestic pressure to implement democratic reforms, Egypt held the referendum on a constitutional amendment allowing independent candidates to challenge the sitting president for the first time ever.

The Egyptian authorities said 83 per cent of voters backed the amendment, although pro-reform activists protested that the changes do not go far enough to change the current system, which has granted Mubarak the presidency unopposed for four consecutive six-year terms since 1981.

The alleged abuses followed hundreds of opposition arrests over a wave of pro-reform protests in Egypt in the weeks leading up to the election, and drew international condemnation.


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