It went on for 70 minutes, but it felt like forever. She saw them running towards her as she approached Tahrir Square in Cairo, and within minutes was already surrounded. She tried to fight and run, but it was too late. Yasmine El Baramawy, a 30-year-old musician and composer who fell victim to a group rape in Tahrir Square, relived the frightening experience this week. “They tore at my clothes like savage animals and tried to pull down my trousers. I felt hands all over my body.”
According to her, more than 100 men hit her with clubs and waved knives around her – 'punishment' for her audacity in joining the protestors who had congregated last November in protest of constitutional changes, made by now deposed President Mohamed Morsi. Over the weekend she tried to return to the square and join the throngs who had gathered to celebrate Morsi’s ouster – but she panicked upon seeing the crowds.
El Baramawy 's nightmare became a reality when she joined a group of friends who had gone out to protest against Morsi. "About 15 men rushed from the crowd and trapped me by linking hands in a circle," she said in an interview with the UK Daily Mail. "It happened quickly and in such a way that I later realized it was well rehearsed. I was cornered, trapped and stripped from the waist up before I had time to recover from the shock."
She tried to run away, but tripped and fell on her face. The men quickly surrounded her again, and she could do nothing to stop it. They touched her breasts and reached into her underwear. "It was as if I was in a washing machine, being pushed and pulled and grabbed. I didn’t know what was happening to me or when it would end. I thought that I would faint or die, but I still tried to fight back,” she said.
The attackers dragged her a few feet even as she held her pants in an attempt to prevent them from ripping the clothing from her body. "When they couldn’t get the jeans off, they slit them at the back with a knife. I was bleeding from my face and nose, but that didn’t stop them,” she said.
She said she was surprised when she realized her attackers were not teenagers, but older men aged 20 to 40, some of whom were respectable and well dressed. “One guy tried to French kiss me and I bit his tongue so hard it bled. He screamed in agony and started kicking me in the back as I lay on the ground,” she said.
El Baramawy testified that some of the men who attacked her were trying to put her in a car, "but there were so many people crowding around it that they couldn’t open the door. I ended up pinned to the bonnet as they drove a block away.”
The car crawled the streets of Cairo as it attempted to make its way through hordes of protesters – all the while the sexual assault on El Baramawy continued. She fell in sewage on the side of the road and was covered in blood and feces, urine. "We're going to f**k you," unidentified men whispered in her ear.
Dozens of people stood around, watching and doing nothing. Finally she was rescued by a traditionally dressed woman and several of her neighbors. El Baramawy reported the incident to authorities only after two months, and that only after she learned that a few friends had experienced similar abuse. “I felt guilty, I thought that if I had said something before, they would have known the dangers,” she explained.
Recent testimony from Tahrir Square shows that El Baramawy’s complaint has not spurred authorities to take any significant steps toward preventing such attacks. Human Rights Watch reported last week that nearly 100 incidents of sexual assault, from rape to sexual assaults, including rapes, occurred during the week of protests in Tahrir Square.
The group called the phenomenon an “epidemic” and reported that some of the women were attacked by iron chains, chairs, knives and were hospitalized. This number only includes the cases reported to the organization, and the actual number of victims may be much higher.