Bearing red flowers, Egypt’s new President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi pays a visit to a woman who was sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square by a mob during his inauguration celebrations

Egypt’s newly sworn-in president el-Sisi 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 already soaring popularity.

Egypt's President Sisi presents a bouquet of flowers to a woman at a hospital in Cairo

Washington Post  Sexual harassment has long been a problem in Egypt, but assaults 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-Sisi, 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-Sisi, 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.

El-Sisi is as popular with Christians as he is with Muslims
El-Sisi is as popular with Christians as he is with Muslims

It is highly unusual for any senior official, let alone the president, to offer a public apology. El-Sisi, already seen by many Egyptians as a strong leader who can restore stability after three years of unrest, may win over even more supporters by taking a stand on the issue of sexual harassment and violence.

El-Sisi has advocated for a greater public role for women and praised their contribution to society and the economy. He pledged in his Sunday inauguration speech to “do everything I can” to ensure that women are fairly represented in the next parliament and in the executive branch.

On Wednesday, he said it was unacceptable for sexual assaults to take place in Egypt and vowed to take “very decisive measures” to combat the crime. “I tell the judiciary that our honor is being violated on the streets and that is not right. It is unacceptable, even if it is one case,” said the president.

Presidential spokesman Ehab Badawi meanwhile said el-Sisi has instructed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab to set up a ministerial committee to look into the problem and devise a national strategy to combat it.