Pence enters Israel-Palestine fray at critical moment

Palestinians protesters burn tires and throw stones toward Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Bethlehem during clashes on January 12, 2018. US Vice President Mike Pence will visit the Middle East this weekend against a backdrop of heightened tensions after Washington’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to cut funding to Palestinians. (AFP / THOMAS COEX)
Updated 18 January 2018

Pence enters Israel-Palestine fray at critical moment

NEW YORK: US Vice President Mike Pence will visit Middle Eastern allies this weekend against a backdrop of heightened tensions after Washington’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to cut funding to Palestinians.

Pence, an evangelical Christian from Indiana who has billed the trip as an opportunity to work with partners against terrorism and religious persecution, will travel to Egypt overnight on Friday at the start of a four-day trip that includes visits to Jordan and Israel.

In Israel, he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, address the Knesset, and visit the Western Wall and the holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. He will not meet any Palestinian leaders on the Israel leg of the trip, on Monday and Tuesday.

The visit will be watched carefully for any signs of fallout over US President Donald Trump’s widely criticized Dec. 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, pushing back on an international consensus that the city’s status should be decided in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

On Tuesday, Washington said it was withholding $65 million in funding to the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), which assists Palestinian refugees, again prompting outrage and fears that schools and health clinics will be forced to shutter.

“After the Jerusalem declaration and Palestinian funding, now isn’t necessarily a great time for Pence to visit the region, but ultimately there’s never a particularly good time,” Jonathan Cristol, a scholar at the World Policy Institute think tank, told Arab News.

“Pence will doubtless receive a warm welcome from Netanyahu, though the visit is likely to result in an increase in clashes between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in East Jerusalem.”

Pence postponed his original visit to Israel and Egypt in mid-December because of a Senate vote on a tax law.

Before Trump's announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had planned to meet Pence in Bethlehem, but cancelled the meeting in protest at the Jerusalem decision.

On Wednesday, Abbas blasted the US in a fiery and emotional speech in Cairo. He derided Trump’s “sinful” decision on the Holy City and again said Washington “can no longer be a mediator or sponsor” of peace talks.

Tensions will likely overshadow the rest of the trip, including a visit to Jordan on Sunday to meet King Abdullah II, a US ally who has criticized the Jerusalem decision and serves as guardian of Islam’s third-holiest site, located in East Jerusalem.

In Cairo on Saturday, Pence is expected to meet only President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, a leading Trump ally. Prominent Muslim and Christian clerics in Egypt have declined the opportunity to meet the Republican in Egypt’s capital.

Pence frequently speaks against persecution of Middle Eastern Christians. His Egypt visit comes in the wake of last month’s Daesh-linked attack on a Coptic Orthodox church and a Christian-owned shop near Cairo in which at least 11 people died.

Amr Magdi, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Pence may address the topic with El-Sisi, but warned he should not treat attacks on Christians as only a security challenge in the face of Daesh and other armed religious extremists.

“The current predicament of Egypt’s Christians cannot be separated from the larger human rights disaster that society as a whole is experiencing under Sisi’s rule,” Magdi, a Cairo-based scholar, told Arab News.

Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

Updated 13 July 2020

Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

  • Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines
  • In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment

CAIRO: Their accounts are similar. The girls and women describe meeting the young man — a former student at Egypt’s most elite university — in person and online, followed by deceit, then escalating sexual harassment, assault, blackmail or rape.
Some were minors when the alleged crimes took place. In all, more than 100 accusers have emerged online in the past two weeks.
It’s resulted in a new #MeToo firestorm on social media, and the arrest of the suspect last week from his home in a gated community outside Cairo.
Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines; many in Egypt have previously portrayed harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.
Women’s rights champions hope the authorities’ swift response signals change in how Egyptian society handles accusations of sexual assault.
“What’s before this case is totally different from what’s after,” said Nihad Abuel-Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights and a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims.
Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation. In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victim of such crimes.
In a statement, the public prosecutor’s officer said the accused man acknowledged he blackmailed at least six girls, saying he would send sensitive photos of them to their families if they cut ties. Several attempts by The Associated Press to contact him or his lawyer were unsuccessful.
Amr Adib, Egypt’s most prominent TV host, said in a recent episode that he’d spoken with the young man’s father, who occupies a high-ranking position at a telecommunication company. He said his son dismissed the allegations.
At least 10 women have officially reported their claims, according to Abuel-Komsan, of the women’s rights center. Activists also set up the Instagram account @assaultpolice to collect allegations, said Sabah Khodir, a US-based writer who helps run the account. She said there are more than 100 accounts.
“We are demanding to be listened to … We are just using what we have, lending our voices to hopefully create some kind of change,” she said.
A court has ordered the accused to remain in custody pending an investigation into an array of accusations that include attempted rape, blackmail and indecent assault, according to a five-page statement by the public prosecutor. In the same statement, the prosecutor urged more alleged victims to come forward.
Last week, the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi moved to amend the country’s criminal law to increase protections for the identities of sexual assault victims, which activists have welcomed. The amendment still needs parliamentary approval and El-Sisi’s signature to be made law.
The allegations against the student cover a period of at least three years.
Many of the anonymous accounts appear to be from fellow students at the American International School, one of the country’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo, which school officials said the accused left in 2018. It would appear that he then enrolled at the European Union Business School in Spain, in an online program last year.
In February, he spent three weeks at its Barcelona campus, but the school expelled him after an accusation of online harassment that was subsequently proved false, said Claire Basterfield, a spokesperson for the EUBS. The school has filed a 54-page criminal complaint with the Spanish police, seeking further investigation into his actions.
The head of the American University in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, said the university has a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual harassment, but that he would not comment on an ongoing case.
According to accusations posted on social media in the past two weeks, the former student would mine the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs. He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them to have sex with him. If they did not, he would threaten to send the pictures to their family.
In some cases, he “attracted their sympathy by claiming he was going through a crisis,” then lured them to his home in an upscale compound where he sexually assaulted them, the prosecutor’s statement alleged.
In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment. During and after the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, women were frequently harassed, groped — and in some cases, beaten and sexually assaulted — during mass protests.
This time, there are signs of wider ripples throughout the society. The current series of complaints has prompted Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, to speak out on sexual harassment and assault, even challenging the widely held belief that a woman is at fault if her clothing is less than modest. It’s a departure from the norm for the conservative Muslim majority country where most women wear headscarves.
There are also other corners where accusations of sexual harassment are emerging, such as in civil society groups and businesses.
Two rights groups said they fired one employee and suspended another, and opened investigations after allegations of sexual misconduct against them were made public. Authorities also detained a prominent publisher over the weekend after a poet filed a complaint with the Cairo police, accusing him of sexually harassing her, the state-run Al-Ahram reported. The publisher denied the allegations in a Facebook posting. He was released late Sunday on 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($313) in bail, pending an investigation.
The recent cases — reaching into the Egyptian elite — have “refuted all previous arguments and justifications for harassment, from poverty to illiteracy and things like that,” Abuel-Komsan said.