Harassment or harmless flirting? Egypt viral video sparks debate

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Egyptian police women stand by as women protest against sexual harasment in front of the Opera House in the capital Cairo. (File photo / AFP)
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Menna Gubran took the short video of him approaching her and posted it online, igniting an online debate in which many people, including women, took Soliman’s side. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
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Mahmoud Soliman has been given the media spotlight since the video of him making an advance on Menna Gubran in a Cairo suburb went viral this month. (Screengrab courtesy of social media)
Updated 27 August 2018

Harassment or harmless flirting? Egypt viral video sparks debate

LONDON: It’s the story that has everyone talking. Did Mahmoud Soliman’s behavior toward Menna Gubran amount to harassment or was it merely harmless flirting? And was she wrong to film his advances and post the video online?
Sexual harassment is no trivial matter in Egypt, with an international poll last year describing Cairo as the world’s most dangerous mega-city for women. In fact, the practice has been illegal since 2014 and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. However, the law is rarely enforced, not least because it fails to define the different forms sexual harassment can take.
The consequence is the sort of argument now raging over the Soliman-Gubran encounter. Opinion is divided, with some branding Soliman a “harasser” and others appearing to blame Gubran for the way she dressed, even though she does not appear in the video she filmed.
“Frankly, what happened has confused me,” said student Laila Elazhary, 23. “I can’t figure out what was right and what was wrong.”

Another woman, who declined to give her name, offered a robust defense of Soliman. “He is our friend and we have known him for years. He comes from a good family, and what happened was a normal and decent way of approaching and introducing himself to a woman. What is the big fuss about?” she asked.
Others took a more tongue-in-cheek view.
“If ladies keep using videos to keep guys introducing themselves at bay then they won’t find potential husbands. They are surely hurting only themselves,” said accountant Akram Mohamed, 43, while actor Mohamed Kamel joked that the people involved in the video were now shooting an advertisement and would soon be announcing a production deal.
“We are really in the era of nonsense,” he added.
Needless to say, the two principal characters in the story give different accounts of what happened.
Gubran claimed she was “stalked” by Soliman, who circled her in his car and made comments after she refused an invitation to go for coffee with him in Cairo. He desisted only when she started filming him with her mobile phone, she said.
Soliman, however, said he simply “apologized and left” after Gubran declined his invitation and denied “bothering” her.
Gubran posted her video on Facebook and ignited a heated debate online.

The law against sexual harassment in Egypt was introduced largely because of the treatment women suffered — from groping to beatings and sexual assault — during the mass protests of the 2011 uprising.
But if the law offers little clarity, there is less uncertainty among commentators on social media, prompting the question: If laws are ineffective, could pressure from social media encourage changes in behavior?
Physiology professor Sawsan Mohamed of Zaqaziq University believes it can — but not always in the desired way.
“Social media are transforming our patterns and norms toward an unknown destination. In the past few years I’ve seen my students transforming from shy to aggressive. Social media platforms have surely helped to alter characters, habits and the culture through instant and continuous feeds. We can’t predict where this will lead our culture,” she said.
“What used to happen, and take months and years to be replicated and become trendy, can now happen overnight through one simple post,” said Shady Azmy, a digital marketing expert based in Cairo. “The impact gets distributed once major influencers and celebrities join the wave.”
Professor Damian Radcliffe of the University of Oregon has studied the effects of social media on the Middle East for almost a decade.

“This is a great example of the complexities of social media. On the one hand it can be a valuable tool for empowerment, entertainment and sharing legitimate information. On the other, it can also be used to promote rumors and inaccuracies as well as amplifying behaviors and attitudes which many people find objectionable. All of these different responses can be seen at play here.”
Radcliffe believes the threat of exposure or ridicule through “naming and shaming” on social media could act as a driver of change in social norms.
“Hopefully it will,” he added. “But we also need to be alive to the fact that people may be incorrectly ‘shamed’ online, especially if they have a common name, and that vendettas and trolling may also play out. Mistakes can and do happen. Sometimes that is accidental. Sometimes it’s more nefarious.
“Social media may help trigger discussions (on what constitutes sexual harassment), but any definition is likely to need — and require — offline as well as online discussion. Social networks can help provoke debate and challenge accepted norms and, in many cases, these important discussions can be triggered by ordinary citizens.
“The court of public opinion should not necessarily act as judge and jury, but in the social media age there is a risk that this can happen.”


Royal runaways’ media war follows them to Canada

Updated 23 January 2020

Royal runaways’ media war follows them to Canada

LONDON: Prince Harry and his wife Meghan may have quit Britain for a quieter life in Canada but their battle with the media has followed them to the new front line.
Harry believes “powerful forces” in Britain’s tabloids are waging a ruthless propaganda war to vilify his US former actress wife — and he is hitting back through the lawyers.
Having struggled with media scrutiny since their May 2018 wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex abandoned their royal roles this month in a bid for a calmer and more independent life.
But their bombshell departure has made them even more of a story — and media, including paparazzi photographers, have now flocked to their Vancouver Island getaway.
Their lawyers have already issued warnings to the press over pictures of Meghan out walking the dogs near their luxury seafront home.
After a slew of negative stories in the British press, the couple are trying to seize greater control of the narrative.
But they are not shunning all publicity — far from it.
The Sussexes will keep working with their non-royal patronages, but now intend to work with hand-picked media only.
Meghan has already made a couple of visits to women’s charities in nearby Vancouver, while they continue posting content on Instagram, where they have 11 million followers.
Their success in becoming financially independent from the monarchy through creating their own commercial income will largely depend on them remaining hot property.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, which campaigns for press freedom, said the couple could not control media scrutiny.
“If Harry and Meghan had said: ‘we want to withdraw completely from public life and occasionally appear for good causes’, I think they would have achieved their aim but they seem to want to have their cake and eat it,” he told AFP.
Harry is “living in cloud cuckoo land” if he thought press relations would magically improve by him stepping away from representing his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II and moving to Canada, said royal biographer Penny Junor.
She said the situation could become worse now they are no longer in the royal fold, where pooled media access to engagements is facilitated through a long-agreed system.
Without that stream of content, news and picture desks might look elsewhere.
“The press might be less respectful than they were before,” Junor, the author of “Prince Harry: Brother. Soldier. Son. Husband.,” told AFP.
The 35-year-old prince, who is sixth in line to the throne, has always had a tumultuous relationship with the press, which he blames for the death of his mother.
Diana, princess of Wales died in 1997 in a car crash. Harry was 12 at the time.
A truce between the papers and the palace meant Harry and his brother Prince William were left alone while they were still in education, in return for a handful of pooled photo opportunities.
But afterwards, Harry quickly turned into a tabloid favorite with his party lifestyle and repeated misdemeanours.
He served 10 years in the British army, including two tours of duty in Afghanistan, and afterwards founded the Invictus Games for wounded veterans.
Harry was praised as a changed man who had found his calling.
“He recognized not only that he could do good things with his title — but also that he needed publicity to do those good things and that a good relationship with the press was very important,” said Junor.
The prince’s relationship with Meghan was welcomed across the board by the press, but media relations soon began to deteriorate.
Reports appeared of staff being unable to work with the “duchess of difficult.”
When their son Archie arrived in May 2019, they announced that Meghan had gone into labor hours after the baby had actually been born, infuriating newsdesks.
The couple’s animosity toward the press spilled over into legal action in October last year, with Harry suing over alleged voicemail interception and Meghan filing a claim over a private letter to her father Thomas Markle appearing in The Mail on Sunday (him having shown it to the tabloid).
“They are going to have to accept that their lifestyle will continue to go under scrutiny,” said Murray, adding that they were living close to the US border.
“The American media are different; they have a vigorous magazine market,” he said.
“There will be an appetite there and around the world for pictures and stories about them.”