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Video: Protesters return to Tahrir Square

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updated 6/7/2012 4:28:02 AM ET 2012-06-07T08:28:02

Her screams were not drowned out by the clamor of the crazed mob of nearly 200 men around her. An endless number of hands reached toward the woman in the red shirt in an assault scene that lasted less than 15 minutes but felt more like an hour.

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She was pushed by the sea of men for about a block into a side street from Tahrir Square. Many of the men were trying to break up the frenzy, but it was impossible to tell who was helping and who was assaulting. Pushed against the wall, the unknown woman's head finally disappeared. Her screams grew fainter, then stopped. Her slender tall frame had clearly given way. She apparently had passed out.

The helping hands finally splashed the attackers with bottles of water to chase them away.

Report: Egypt's Mubarak in declining health

The assault late Tuesday was witnessed by an Associated Press reporter who was almost overwhelmed by the crowd herself and had to be pulled to safety by men who ferried her out of the melee in an open Jeep.

Reports of assaults on women in Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down last year, have been on the rise with a new round of mass protests to denounce a mixed verdict against the ousted leader and his sons in a trial last week.

Tahrir Square occupied as anger grows over Mubarak verdict

The late Tuesday assault was the last straw for many. Protesters and activists met Wednesday to organize a campaign to prevent sexual harassment in the square. They recognize it is part of a bigger social problem that has largely gone unpunished in Egypt. But the phenomenon is trampling on their dream of creating in Tahrir a micro-model of a state that respects civil liberties and civic responsibility, which they had hoped would emerge after Mubarak's ouster.

'It shouldn't be happening'
"Enough is enough," said Abdel-Fatah Mahmoud, a 22-year-old engineering student, who met Wednesday with friends to organize patrols of the square in an effort to deter attacks against women. "It has gone overboard. No matter what is behind this, it is unacceptable. It shouldn't be happening on our streets let alone Tahrir."

No official numbers exist for attacks on women in the square because police do not go near the area, and women rarely report such incidents. But activists and protesters have reported a number of particularly violent assaults on women in the past week. Many suspect such assaults are organized by opponents of the protests to weaken the spirit of the protesters and drive people away.

Video: Women take to the streets in Cairo (on this page)

Mahmoud said two of his female friends were cornered Monday and pushed into a small passageway by a group of men in the same area where the woman in the red shirt was assaulted. One was groped while the other was seriously assaulted, Mahmoud said, refusing to divulge specifics other than to insist she wasn't raped.

Mona Seif, a well-known activist who has been trying to promote awareness about the problem, said Wednesday she was told about three different incidents in the past five days, including two that were violent. In one incident, the attackers ripped the woman's clothes off and trampled on her companions, she said.

Egypt's Tahrir protesters take on Mubarak's man

Women, who participated in the 18-day uprising that ended with Mubarak's Feb. 11, 2011 ouster as leading activists, protesters, medics and even fighters to ward off attacks by security agents or affiliated thugs on Tahrir, have found themselves facing the same groping and assaults that have long plagued Egypt's streets during subsequent protests in the square.

Slideshow: Egypt's Mubarak steps down (on this page)

Women also have been targeted in recent crackdowns on protesters by military and security troops, a practice commonly used by Mubarak security that grew even more aggressive in the days following his ouster. In a defining image of the post-Mubarak state violence against women, troops were captured on video stomping with their boots on the bare chest of a woman, with only her blue bra showing, as other troops pulled her by the arms across the ground.

Using social media tools to battle sexual harassment in Egypt

A 2008 report by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights says two-thirds of women in Egypt experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis. A string of mass assaults on women in 2006 during the Muslim feast following the holy month of Ramadan prompted police to increase the number of patrols to combat it but legislation providing punishment was never passed.

"If you know you can get away with sexual harassment and assault, then there is an overall impunity," Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef said.

Turmoil
The case is more paradoxical in Tahrir, which has come to symbolize the revolution, but has lost its original luster among Egyptians weary of more than a year of turmoil.

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Women say they briefly experienced a "new Egypt," with strict social customs casually cast aside during the initial 18-day uprising — at least among the protesters who turned the square into a protected zone. But that image was marred when Lara Logan, a U.S. correspondent for CBS television, was sexually assaulted by a frenzied mob in Tahrir on the day Mubarak stepped down, when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians came to the square to celebrate.

Video: CBS News' Logan recovering at home after attack (on this page)

The post-Mubarak political reality for women also has deteriorated. They have lost political ground in the 16 months since Mubarak's ouster — even winning fewer seats in parliament in the first free and fair elections in decades. The 508-member parliament has only eight female legislators, a sharp drop from the more than 60 in the 2010 parliament thanks to a Mubarak-era quota. Women's rights groups also fear the growing power of Islamist groups will lead to new restrictions.

Lara Logan says Egypt assault left her with PTSD

Activists have no idea what finally happened to the woman in the red shirt. But they have been alarmed by the rise in violent attacks on women, which has chipped away at efforts to project the square as a utopia free of discrimination and violence.

Seif said there is a responsibility inside the square.

"I think it is getting worse because people don't want to acknowledge it is happening or do something to reduce it," said Seif. "It is our job to put an end to it, at least in Tahrir."

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Farewell Friday

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  1. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Feb. 11. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Egyptians set off fireworks as they celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after President Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the resignation of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in the Grand Foyer at the White House in Washington D.C. (Carolyn Kaster / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Egyptians celebrate in Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military on Friday. Egypt exploded with joy, tears, and relief after pro-democracy protesters brought down President Hosni Mubarak with a momentous march on his palaces and state TV. Mubarak, who until the end seemed unable to grasp the depth of resentment over his three decades of authoritarian rule, finally resigned Friday. (Khalil Hamra / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Protesters walk over a barricade after it was taken down to allow free entry to hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 11, 2011. A furious wave of protest finally swept Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from power, sending a warning to autocrats across the Arab world and beyond. (Yannis Behrakis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A spokesman for Egypt's higher military council reads a statement titled “Communiqué No. 3” in this video still on Friday. Egypt's higher military council said it would announce measures for a transitional phase after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. (Reuters Tv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Egyptian celebrates in Cairo after the announcement of President Mubarak's resignation. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. A furious wave of protest finally swept Mubarak from power after 30 years of one-man rule, sparking jubilation in the streets. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Egyptian reacts in the street after President Hosni Mubarak resigned and handed power to the military in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, Feb. 11. (Amr Nabil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation on Friday. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Egyptian soldiers celebrate with anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square on Friday. Cairo's streets exploded in joy when Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Egyptians celebrate the news of Mubarak's resignation in Tahrir Square on Friday. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Egyptian woman cries as she celebrates the news of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who handed control of the country to the military, Friday night, in Tahrir Square, Cairo. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate minutes after the announcement on television of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Opposition protesters celebrate Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, in Tahrir Square on Friday. President Mubarak bowed to pressure from the street and resigned, handing power to the army. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Mubarak's resignation in Cairo on Friday. (Dylan Martinez / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. On Egyptian state television, Al-Masriya, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivers an address announcing that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has stepped down, in Cairo on Friday. (TV via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Anti-government protesters celebrate inside Tahrir Square after the announcement of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in Cairo
    Dylan Martinez / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (18) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Farewell Friday
  2. Image: Protester in Tahrir Square
    Emilio Morenatti / AP
    Slideshow (61) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 3
  3. Image: Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters
    Amr Nabil / AP
    Slideshow (93) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 2
  4. Image: Mohamed ElBaradei
    Khalil Hamra / AP
    Slideshow (83) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - Week 1
  5. Image:
    Mayra Beltran / AP
    Slideshow (17) Egypt's Mubarak steps down - World reacts

Timeline: The rise and fall of Hosni Mubarak

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