We have seen the power of social media in giving a platform for everyone, from small, private accounts to ones with hundreds of millions of followers. The key word here is influence. “Influence” has become much more than a noun in the English language, it has become a career for so many, hence, social media influencers and public figures. But what happens when this influence is used as a tool for activism? Rarely do social or political reforms happen out of the goodwill of politicians and lawmakers. Usually, public outrage, specifically on social media, is a major catalyst for any sort of social change.
One prominent and recent example is the Instagram account @assaultpolice which has gathered over 164,000 followers over the course of a couple of weeks. The account was created as a means of gathering evidence against serial sexual harasser and rapist Ahmed Bassem Zaki who has assaulted over 100 women. Here’s the rundown of one of Egypt’s worst criminals:
On July 1st, @assaultpolice posted a series of voice notes recorded by Zaki that contained blackmail that threatened girls to comply with his sexual desires. Threats included informing/showing immediate relatives of private photos. The following is a quote from one of the victims:
“He kept finding excuses to touch me, although every time he did, I’d say I’m not comfortable with excess touchiness. He got angry and he said I was a prude, that I should be open minded. I said being open minded means he should accept my choice of refusing to be touched without judgement.”
Hundreds of stories started flooding social media, whether it was through the page on Instagram or on Twitter, with women and young girls (as young as 13 years old) sharing their experience with Zaki.
Zaki’s heinous acts started from his school years in highly regarded institutions such as Modern English School Egypt, American International School – Egypt, and the American University of Cairo. When female students came forward to the school administration, they were met with a disappointing attitude and little urgency. In addition, these women faced some comments from peers claiming, “you’re going to ruin his life.” It was an overall discouraging process for the victims and the administration simply let Zaki off with a warning, and he eventually graduated even though the administration knew of his predatory behavior. Fortunately, Zaki was recently suspended from EU Business school.
Zaki went out of his way with his predatory behavior to allure and trick girls into believing he is nothing more than an innocent guy who is looking for a friend. His ruses would usually be him faking a cry for help and convincing girls that he needs emotional support. The girls, all in good intention, would find themselves with him, entrapped in some room with him all alone. One of the girls said:
“When you take it out of context, he sounds delusional, but at the moment you believe it. That’s what’s scary.”
The outpouring support for the victims and online campaigns against Zaki were overwhelming, with hashtags trending everyday until officials took the case very seriously.
In a statement released by the Egyption Public Prosecution Office, Ahmed Bassem Zaki was arrested a few days ago and remains in custody; a small win for everyone who was demanding justice for the victims. Arrest isn’t enough, however, and @assaultpolice has been urging everyone to come forward with their case to meet with lawyers to help them take further action. In addition, the Prime Minister of Egypt has amended the law in order to provide increased protection for victims of sexual assault.
In a country where over 99% of studied women in a 2013 UN Women report were harassed, such a story was bound to set a trigger for Egyptian women, and small victories are celebrated even if it means that the problem hasn’t been solved yet. This week, actress and model Rania Youssef revealed that she plans on filing reports on every man who has sexually harassed her on social media in a bid to push the narrative further and encourage other women to speak up. The hashtag #HoldAUCAccountable was also trending for a while as students called for solid protection for women on campus and a means for accountability in the case of sexual harassment or assault.
As far as the world is concerned, and especially the Arab world, there’s still a long way to go if we want to hold more people like Zaki accountable for their disgusting actions.