Egypt court sentences ex-student to 3 years in #MeToo case

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court Tuesday convicted a former student at an elite university of sexual misconduct charges and sentenced him to three years in prison, the first conviction in a case that has fueled the #MeToo movement in the Arab world’s most populous country.

The Cairo Economic Court convicted Ahmed Bassam Zaki, a former student at American University in Cairo, of blackmailing and sexually harassing two women.

Zaki is being tried separately in criminal court on charges of rape and attempted rape of three other women who were minors at the time of the alleged crimes, according to the court documents. In addition, he faces drug possession charges.

Tuesday’s verdict can be appealed to a higher court.

The former student was arrested in July after allegations against him surfaced on social media, resulting in a firestorm of criticism. The #MeToo movement aims to hold accountable those involved in sexual misconduct and those who cover it up.

Several attempts at the time by The Associated Press to contact Zaki's family and his lawyer were unsuccessful.

According to accusations posted on social media, Zaki would mine the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs, for females to target.

He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them with if they did not have sex with him, according to the accusations. In some instances he threatened to send compromising pictures to family members.

Zaki hails from a wealthy family and studied at the American International School, one of Egypt’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo. AUC officials said he left the university in 2018.

Zaki's case, activists say, shows that misogyny cuts across Egypt's stark class lines. Many in Egypt have previously portrayed sexual harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.

Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation. In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victims of such crimes.

The allegations against the former student were collected by the Instagram account @assaultpolice. Since then, the account has played a crucial role in revealing an alleged gang rape that shook Egyptian society in recent weeks.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have also emerged against several rights activists and prominent journalists, but those allegations have not made their way to courts.