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Al-Azhar: Harassment of Women Is Haram, Should Be Punished

Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim authority, Al-Azhar, has issued a statement expressing harassment of Women is religiously forbidden and should be punished ‘regardless of the context or conditions’.

Al-Azhar, which has huge influence over Egypt’s mostly Muslim population and trains most of the country’s imams, took to Facebook and Twitter this week to denounce the practice of harassing women, including over their behaviour or clothing.

In the statement published yesterday, Al-Azhar condemns “prohibited acts and deviant behavior”. It also affirms that “women’s attire or attitude should under no circumstances justify these acts” which constitute an “attack on the dignity and freedom of women”. And he adds: “He who practices these harassments is a sinner”. The Islamic institution asks the authorities to “enforce the law that criminalizes these acts” and “to punish the guilty”. The edict follows a law adopted in 2014 that criminalizes sexual harassment.

The institution’s remarks come days after a man was killed in the Egyptian Mediterranean city of Alexandria allegedly while defending his wife against harassment. The city’s police arrested the 39-year-old suspect purportedly for having fatally stabbed the woman’s husband at a beach this week. The incident triggered an outcry in Egypt.

In recent years, Egyptian authorities and civil society groups have stepped up efforts to combat the offense. Under recent legal amendments, sexual harassment in Egypt is punishable by jail terms of up to 10 years.

Egyptian courts have recently issued tough jail sentences in different cases of sex assaults. The verdicts were passed following a short number of hearings. Previously, such cases took long years before a ruling was delivere.

According to Middle East Eye, in 2014, Egypt passed a law punishing harassment with up to five years in jail. But the law is rarely put into action, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Sexual harassment and violence against women remained endemic,” the rights group said in a report earlier this year. “Women police officers, part of a special unit started in 2013 to combat violence against women, became more visible in public places especially during crowded holidays. But prosecution of perpetrators was still rare.”

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