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Sexual attacks spark anger in Egypt

– A string of sexual assaults on women during celebrations of Egypt’s presidential inauguration – including a mass attack on a 19-year-old student who was stripped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square – prompted outrage Monday as a video emerged purportedly showing the teenager, bloodied and naked, surrounded by dozens of men.

Seven men were arrested in connection with the assault and police were investigating 27 other complaints of sexual harassment against women during Sunday’s rallies by tens of thousands of people celebrating Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s inauguration late into the night, security officials said.

Sexual violence has increasingly plagued large gatherings during the past three years of turmoil after the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, and women’s groups complained Monday that tough new laws have not done enough.

Twenty-nine women’s rights groups released a joint statement accusing the government of failing do enough to address the spiraling outbreak of mob attacks on women. The groups said they had documented more than 250 cases of “mass sexual rape and mass sexual assaults” from November 2012 to January 2014.

“Combatting that phenomena requires a comprehensive national strategy,” said the statement signed by the women’s groups.

Last week, authorities issued a decree declaring sexual harassment a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

The decree amended Egypt’s current laws on abuse, which did not criminalize sexual harassment and only vaguely referred to such offenses as “indecent assault.”

Sexual harassment has been one of Egypt’s enduring social ills, embedded in the country’s patriarchal conservative culture, where women are seen as inferior to men. Movies often portray women as sex objects, leaving them vulnerable to men who feel empowered by the absence of a strong legal deterrent.

Sexual assaults have increased dramatically in ferocity and in number in the three years since Mubarak’s ouster, with Tahrir square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising, the site of multiple sexual attacks on women amid the large crowds.

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