Egypt Sees Major Shift in Religious Discourse on Sexual Harassment

Unconditional support for women’s rights.

Dr. Sonia Farid is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at Cairo University and she also works, among other things, as a translator and editor. Her social work is primarily focused on political awareness and women’s rights. According to Dr. Farid, sexual harassment has plagued Egyptian society for years and now, after countless initiatives have been launched in an attempt to push back at this the growing phenomenon, Egypt’s highest religious authority, al-Azhar, decided to step in.

Following an incident of sexual harassment that went viral on social media, al-Azhar then took action by issuing a statement that supports the criminalization of sexual harassment. Important here is to note that this support is given, regardless of the circumstances because, as Al-Azhar officially states, sexual harassment is religiously forbidden. Yet, the most remarkable part of the statement, according to Dr. Farid, was the part concerning the women’s responsibility. This issue has always been “a point of contention in the debate about sexual harassment especially amongst religious scholars.”

Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo

The translated statement said that, “Linking sexual harassment to women’s behavior or clothes is unacceptable.” This part is very clear. Furthermore, “Sexual harassment is a violation of women’s privacy, freedom, and dignity and its prevalence compromises their feelings of security.”

The statement from Al-Azhar added a philosophical note that reflected on the impact of the behavior of individuals on society as a whole. It said that, “A society only becomes civilized when it respects women.” Through its unconditional support for women, the statement from Al-Azhar marks a major shift in religious discourse in Egypt.

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