Illustration by Rifal Imam

Egypt’s #MeToo Movement: In Conversation with Nadeen Ashraf

Nadeen Ashraf, the 22 year old founder of Assault Police in Egypt, talks about her work online, deconstructing taboo and how to be involved in this #MeToo Movement in the Middle East.

Sexual harassment in the Middle East has been exacerbated by the continuous discouragement of women to talk about topics deemed culturally inappropriate and shameful — or a’eib in Arabic. For years, legal systems — at least, the few in place — have been infected with the poison of silence, which harms victims just as much as their perpetrators do.
“Sexual violence crimes in Egypt are built purely on silence, they’re enabled by silence, by the fact that it’s taboo to talk about sexual activities,” explained Nadeen Ashraf .
Born and raised in Cairo, Ashraf founded Assault Police in July, an Instagram account initially aimed at exposing perpetrators and bringing justice to the women accusing them, after the Egyptian government failed to act on over ten reports of sexual assault by the same individual. “We are doing our best to compensate for a system that does not actually exist to process [reports of sexual harassment],” Ashraf said.
She was driven to create the page as a result of years of witnessing assault victims close to her suffer in silence. “When I was frustrated with everything going on, I felt like the only thing I could do was take it to social media. I really believe in the power of social media and people’s voices.”
Her belief carried through; authorities arrested the individual whose reports she was helping to circulate online. As the page gained more momentum, it amplified demands for justice and increased in overall success.
The 22 year old sparked the rise of the much-needed #MeToo Movement in Egypt, a country notoriously unsafe for women. Assault Police has now become a resource used across the Middle East, educating its growing 200,000 followers on concepts such as consent, physical boundaries and legal protection for women, while continuing to share the stories of assault victims and calling for change.
Public and Personal: The Face of the Movement
Despite the account initially being anonymous, Ashraf chose to share her identity in late August, becoming the face of the page, and is now widely associated with the #MeToo movement in the Middle East. Making this decision allowed for expansion with NGO’s, feminist lawyers and other platforms. She is currently taking a gap semester from her academics — a philosophy major at the American University of Cairo — to delve deeper into helping the community and pursue these outreach opportunities.
Ashraf works independently, supported by friends and family, which gives her certain freedoms in regards to the content she posts. But at the same time, it sometimes becomes overwhelming. Her choice to help with one case means simultaneously getting accused of ignoring countless others, not caring or doing it all for attention. The official page receives over ten messages an hour with people reaching out and asking for help.
“It’s sad to be helpless and not be able to do everything,” she reflected. “I am not [a] professional, I do not sadly have strict, direct governmental support or any professionals working with me. So really, I’m just a little girl, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just trying to pull it off.”
Being at the center of the movement has definitely come with its own burdens, and they rapidly escalated these past few months: pressure, responsibility and a mental and emotional toll. “It’s very emotionally taxing, not just the content that I post for the page to function, but there’s absolutely no personal space, no boundaries when you’re helping people,” she shared.
De-constructing Taboo and Creating a Resource
From a young age, children in Egypt are told not to talk about tabooed topics, sweeping sensitive conversations under the rug. “Every single report we get about sexual harassment or abuse of children under the age of 18, 14 and 10... they never tell their parents,” Ashraf remarked. “Their parents are just casually following the page and they will never find out that this happened to their kid.”
For many, Assault Police is the first and only available resource at hand. It is a rare space that provides a voice for women, not infiltrated by cultural shaming. Information is put out in both English and Arabic, catering to a wider audience.
“I know very well that we are very much an Eastern Arab culture. I have to be inclusive, and my content needs to cater to everyone, from the majority of the conservative population to the more educated people,” Ashraf said. “I am trying to start with the abc’s.”
In order to avoid cultural or religious conflict that may push people away, Ashraf sticks to the facts. One of the most recent developments on the page is the discussion of laws that protect women in Egypt. “There are surprisingly a lot of laws that protect women in Egypt, but no one knows about them. And because no one knows about them, no one uses them properly.”
Vocal Activism: Breaking the Barrier
With a noticeable rise in awareness of sexual violence, it is necessary for everyone, no matter how young or old, to understand what their roles can be in this movement. For Ashraf, no contribution is too small, and at this point, every person has a duty to drive it forward.
“The first step that we should take, even as students, is just constantly try to actively destroy and disobey the idea of taboo and a’ieb,” explained Ashraf. Her beliefs are reflected in her commitment to sharing educational content on her account, which is foundational for the movement.
The movement does not end at sharing posts on social media, but rather encouraging the discussion of uncomfortable topics within friend circles. Dialogue acts like a domino effect: If a person is able to ignite change in just one other person, the effects will ripple, and slowly but surely, society will respond.
“It’s important to be vocal. It’s important to be expressive of the way you feel and about the things that happen around you,” Ashraf reaffirmed.
Looking Forward
Although five months have passed since the creation of Assault Police, the violent acts of assault remain prevalent, and the feeling of unsafety still looms around the streets of Egypt. A couple of weeks ago, the murder of Mariam Mohamed sparked the conversation once again, reminding people that the issue of harassment in Egypt is still very much alive in our every day lives.
With this awareness, Ashraf added: “I’m just hoping that we can take advantage of the current momentum and promote the beginning of certain things that can run in the long-run.”
In just a few months, the movement has reached many Arab countries and caught the attention of multiple international media outlets around the world. Taking inspiration from Assault Police, other countries in the Middle East have started conversations, such as Cat Calls of Amman which was recently created in Jordan.
For Ashraf, this movement has always been much larger than exposing harassers. With more people and activists supporting Ashraf on her mission to expand the cause, Assault Police and similar social media accounts are deconstructing the concept of a’eib, finally giving space for women to speak up without shame or fear.
The movement now belongs to every single person living in the Middle East. A safe future begins with an uncomfortable conversation with a parent, a refusal to laugh at a joke about harassment by a friend and an openness for change as a community.
Sarah Afaneh is Senior Communications Editor and Features Editor. Malak Abdel-Ghaffar is a Staff Writer. Email them at
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