Car horns, music as thousands defy curfew in Iraqi capital

Anti-government protesters gather in Tahrir Square during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP)
Updated 29 October 2019

Car horns, music as thousands defy curfew in Iraqi capital

  • Al-Sadr's bloc earlier said it was going into opposition until demands were met
  • More than 200 people have been killed and 8,000 wounded, the majority protesters, since the movement erupted

BAGHDAD: Honking cars and blaring music filled the streets of the Iraqi capital early Tuesday, as thousands including students kept up anti-government protests despite a curfew declared by the army.
Swathes of Iraq have been engulfed by two waves of demonstrations this month over unemployment and corruption that have evolved into demands for regime change.
The rallies have gathered despite temporary curfews, threats of arrest and violence that has left nearly 240 people dead, including five protesters killed in Baghdad on Monday.
That evening, the military said cars and foot traffic would be barred in the capital for six hours starting at midnight (2100 GMT), sparking concern security forces would storm protest camps in Baghdad.
But as the curfew came into effect, people were still streaming into Baghdad’s iconic Tahrir (Liberation) Square in cars and on foot.
Three-wheeled vehicles known as tuk-tuks ferried people to Tahrir, and a cacophony of car horns from accumulating traffic could be heard from surrounding neighborhoods.
It was the fifth consecutive night that protesters have occupied the square, clinging on despite heavy tear gas used to keep protesters from storming the Green Zone, which hosts government offices and foreign offices.
They had otherwise been allowed to set up tents in Tahrir and taken over multi-story buildings there since Thursday in a marked departure from the response during the first week of this month.
Protests have also persisted across the country’s Shiite-majority south, with night-time rallies in the holy city of Karbala spiralling into skirmishes with security forces.
Protesters have been joined by a huge contingent of students, who joined despite stern warnings by the higher education minister and the prime minister’s office that they should “stay away.”
“No school, no classes, until the regime collapses!” boycotting students shouted on Monday in Diwaniyah, south of the capital.
Other student protests gathered in the southern cities of Nasiriyah, Hillah and Basra — and even the holy city of Najaf.

The national teachers’ syndicate announced a four-day strike and the lawyers’ union also told its members to boycott the courts for several days.
“Qusay Al-Suhail (the higher education minister) said not to come down into the streets. But we say: no nation, no class!” one student protester said.
“All we want is for the government to immediately submit its resignation. Either it resigns, or it gets ousted.”
About 60 percent of Iraq’s 40-million-strong population is under the age of 25.
But youth unemployment stands at 25 percent and one in five people live below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second-largest crude producer.
Anger at inequality and accusations that government corruption was fueling it sparked protests in Baghdad on October 1 that have since attracted growing numbers of young people.
On Monday, a small group of students brought kits to Tahrir Square to treat people affected by tear gas along with cans of Pepsi — believed to alleviate discomfort when splashed on the face.
“It’s my first day at the protests. I told my mom I’m going to class, but I came here instead!” a girl with curly hair told AFP.
The protests are unprecedented in recent Iraqi history for their ire at the entire political class, with some even criticizing traditionally revered religious leaders.
On Monday, Iraq’s parliament voted to dissolve the provincial councils, cancel the extra privileges of top officials and summon embattled Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi for questioning.
Abdel Mahdi has proposed a laundry list of reforms, including hiring drives, increased pensions and promises to root out corruption.
President Barham Saleh has also held discussions with the UN on electoral reform and amendments to the 2005 constitution, but they have not appeased protesters.
In solidarity with demonstrators, four lawmakers resigned late on Sunday, and the largest parliamentary bloc has been holding an open-ended sit-in since Saturday night.
Saeroon, the bloc tied to firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, said it was dropping its support for Abdel Mahdi.
The move has left the premier more squeezed than ever, as Saeroon was one of the two main sponsors of his government.
The other was Fatah, the political arm of the Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, which has said it would continue to back the central government.
Several Hashed offices have been torched in recent days in southern Iraq, prompting vows of “revenge” from its leaders.
Sadr responded Sunday, warning them: “Do not champion the corrupt. Do not repress the people.”
North of Baghdad late Monday, two mortar rounds hit the military base of Taiji where US troops are deployed, a security source said.
There were no reports of damage or casualties, and the attack was not claimed.


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.