CAIRO — Bearing red flowers, Egypt’s newly sworn-in president Abdel-Fattah el- Sissi on Wednesday apologized in person to a woman who was sexually assaulted by a mob during weekend celebrations marking his inauguration, a gesture that is likely to bolster the career soldier’s popularity.
Sexual harassment has long been a problem in Egypt, but assaults have increased dramatically both in frequency and ferocity in the three years since the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Activists welcomed the gesture by el-Sissi, but said it would prove empty if not followed up by concrete steps toward preventing such acts and punishing perpetrators.
State television showed a visibly moved el-Sissi visiting the woman in a Cairo hospital.
“I have come to tell you and every Egyptian woman that I am sorry. I am apologizing to every Egyptian woman,” el-Sissi, a former military chief who ousted the country’s first elected president nearly a year ago, said as he stood by the woman’s bed.
“Don’t be upset,” he told her.
Several women were assaulted during Sunday’s inaugural festivities in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 2011 revolt that toppled Mubarak, which has also seen numerous mob sexual assaults during demonstrations held there since.
Sunday’s assaults coincided with el-Sissi starring in carefully choreographed ceremonies held at two of the capital’s most opulent presidential palaces.