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Egyptian film shines light on sexual harassment

By Catriona Davies, for CNN
In "Cairio 678" one of the lead characters, played by actress Bushra, is repeatedly harassed on buses.
In "Cairio 678" one of the lead characters, played by actress Bushra, is repeatedly harassed on buses.
  • Film tells stories of three sexually harassed women in Egypt
  • "The old regime brought the worst out of people," says director Mohamed Diab
  • Director missed European premiere because he was taking part in Egypt's revolution

(CNN) -- A film lifting the lid on sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt is gaining plaudits around the world.

"Cairo 678" tells the story of three fictional women from different backgrounds as they search for justice from daily sexual harassment.

One of them is sexually harassed by a group of men after a football match, another insists on taking her harasser to court despite pressure to drop her case and the third responds by stabbing harassers in the groin with the pin from her head scarf.

Several aspects of the film were drawn from real-life incidents, said the director, Egyptian Mohamed Diab.

"Three years ago there was the first reported case of gang sexual harassment," he said. "An individual starts harassing a woman and others jump in and start doing it too.

"I was shocked and started researching it. I wanted to know why this was happening."

Sexual harassment is a symptom of poverty, ignorance and aggression.
--Mohamed Diab, director "Cairo 678"

He said one of the film's actresses suffered real gang sexual harassment while the scenes were being shot.

The issue of sexual harassment in Egypt came to the attention of the world when CBS reporter Lara Logan was attacked in Cairo's Tahrir Square after former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Other women reported incidents ranging from mild harassment to violent attacks.

A survey in 2008 by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights claimed that 98% of foreign women and 83% of Egyptian women in the country had been sexually harassed.

Diab said he was optimistic that attitudes were beginning to change since the revolution.

He said: "Sexual harassment is a symptom of poverty, ignorance and aggression.

"The old regime brought the worst out of people. Oppression was in every alley.

"My film is about breaking the silence, and there's a new attitude that people don't want to shut up anymore. Everyone wants to stand up for their rights now.

"I'm optimistic that things will begin to change now, but it will take time. The euphoria of the revolution will vanish in a month or two and if people's lives do not improve rates (of sexual harassment) will go up again."

Diab said after the film was first shown in Egypt many women told him they would now report incidents, and police officers said they would take such reports more seriously.

Revolution signals new dawn for Egypt's women

"Cairo 678" had its North American premiere on March 26 at the New Directors New Films festival in New York and won best actor/actress awards for two of its leads at the Dubai International Film Festival last December

It is Diab's fifth film as a screenwriter, but his first as a director. He missed the film's European premiere in Rotterdam because he was taking part in protests in Tahrir Square that led to Mubarak's fall.

He said: "Because I am well known and the revolution had no real leaders, I became one of the leaders.

"It's the most honorable thing that's happened in my life, but it's also a huge responsibility. It's a great thing to feel that responsible."

Diab, 33, is now turning his attention to a new twice-weekly politics show on Egyptian television.

He said: "Me and a couple of others from the revolution are making this new show. Nowadays at least half of my time is (spent) on politics."

He added: "Egypt is now messy and we are rebuilding it. I'm optimistic and cautious because lots of things can go wrong. We want everything to be perfect."

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