If you're a woman who's ever walked down the street wearing a pair of ripped jeans, you deserve to be sexually assaulted and harassed — at least, according to conservative Egyptian lawyer Nabih al-Wahsh. While discussing the issue of prostitution on a TV panel, al-Wahsh claimed it was a "national duty" to rape women in revealing clothing. The Egyptian lawyer's comments have sparked international outrage and spurred Egypt's women's rights body to call for legal action against the lawyer.
"Are you happy when you see a girl walking down the street with half of her behind showing?" al-Wahsh reportedly asked while discussing a new bill aimed at curbing prostitution on TV, according to Al Arabiya English. "I say that when a girl walks about like that, it is a patriotic duty to sexually harass her and a national duty to rape her."
Al-Wahsh went on to argue that it was a woman's responsibility to earn the respect of others by first respecting herself. "Women must respect themselves so others respect them," al-Wahsh reportedly said. He also claimed it was more important for a country to protect its morals than to protect its borders.
But as disturbing as al-Wahsh comment's may be, research has shown that a laissez faire attitude toward sexual assault may be more common in Egypt than the nation's women would like. A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll released earlier this month ranked Cairo as the most dangerous megacity for women, citing exposure to verbal and physical harassment. Moreover, a 2013 study from the United Nations reportedly found that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women had been victims of sexual harassment.
Still, al-Wahsh's comments aren't being taken lightly. Egypt's National Council for Women, the country's highest women's rights body, has reportedly moved to file a complaint with the country's attorney general urging legal action be taken against al-Wahsh. "All the members of the council denounce and decry this statement that explicitly promotes rape and sexual harassment," Elle UK reported the council said in a statement.
In a phone interview with Dream TV, National Council for Women head Maya Morsi further condemned al-Wahsh's line of thinking. "Harassment has nothing to do with a woman's clothing," Middle East Eye reported Morsi said. "Women and their freedom must be respected, and they must be protected in the street."
National Council for Women council member Nada Draz echoed a similar condemnation of al-Wahsh's comments in a statement to the Associated Press, saying his remarks "explicitly promote rape and sexual harassment." The National Council for Women has also reportedly filed a complaint against Al-Assema, the television channel which hosts the program al-Wahsh spoke on, with the Supreme Council for Media Regulation.
But this isn't the first time conservatives in Egypt have either zeroed in on ripped jeans or moved to place the burden of ending sexual assault on women. Dean Tarek Sorour of the University of Alexandria's Faculty of Agriculture banned female students from wearing ripped jeans on the college's campus a little over a month ago, according to a report from Al Arabiya English. Sorour defended the ban to Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm by arguing revealing clothing such as ripped jeans could "stir up feelings among young people and may cause sexual harassment incidents," Al Arabiya English reported earlier this month.
Research shows sexual assault remains an ongoing problem in Egypt with Human Right Watch reporting "sexual harassment and assault has become so rife that many women dread walking in public in Egypt." And work toward ending sexual violence and harassment against women in Egypt means also addressing outdated attitudes such as al-Wahsh's.