CAIRO: Egypt’s chief prosecutor Tuesday referred a former student of an elite university to the criminal court for trial on charges of sexual assault of three minors, in a case that added fuel to the #MeToo movement in the Arab world’s most populous country.
Public Prosecutor Hamada El-Sawy said former student Ahmed Bassam Zaki is also charged with blackmailing and sexually harassing the women, who were minors at the time the alleged crimes took place.
No date has been set for trial. The suspect could face up to life in prison if convicted.
Zaki was arrested in July after the allegations against him went viral, resulting in a firestorm on social media. The #MeToo movement aims to hold accountable those involved in sexual misconduct and those who cover it up.
Several attempts at the time by The Associated Press to contact his family or his lawyer were unsuccessful.
According to accusations posted on social media, 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 with to have sex with him, according to these accusations. If they did not, he would threaten to send the pictures to their family.
The former student hails from a wealthy family and studied at the American International School, one of Egypt’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo. AUC officials said he left the university in 2018.
Claims against 22-year-old Zaki erupted online in July in the form of testimonies including an alleged rape and instances of assault against dozens of girls and women, some involving blackmail.
Some alleged incidents involved girls as young as 14.
Zaki, a former student of some of Egypt’s most elite schools and the American University in Cairo, was arrested on July 4 and confessed to assaulting several girls, according to the prosecution.
The case kickstarted a #MeToo campaign in Egypt, where women complain of rampant sexual harassment, an offense that was only criminalized since 2014.
United Nations surveys say most women in the conservative country have been subject to harassment ranging from catcalling, pinching, groping or worse.
Women are often reluctant to speak out fearing public shame and being blamed for dressing or acting “provocatively.”
Egypt’s parliament last month approved amendments to the criminal code granting victims of sexual assault the right to anonymity.
Zaki’s case, activists say, shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines. Many in Egypt have previously portrayed sexual harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.
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 victims of such crimes.
The allegations against the former student were collected by the Instagram account @assaultpolice. Since then, the account has played a crucial role in revealing an alleged gang rape that shook Egyptian society in recent weeks. Allegations of sexual misconduct also emerged against several rights activists.
The alleged gang rape took place at a five-star Cairo hotel in 2014, but word of the assault surfaced only in July after the former student’s case was made public.
Last week, prosecutors said seven suspects left the country after allegations of the gang rape went viral. Five of the suspects arrived in Lebanon, according to Lebanese authorities. Acting on a request from Egypt, three were arrested late Friday in a village north of Beirut, while the other two apparently left Lebanon.
Another nine suspects were arrested in Egypt, including one last week as he attempted to flee the country. Prosecutors ordered five suspects to remain in custody for four days pending investigations. They ordered the release of four others, three of them on bail of 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($6,315).
(With AP and AFP)