Critics in Egypt say Citroën ad promotes sexual harassment

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An ad by a French automaker sparked controversy in Egypt after activists said it promoted sexual harassment in a country where the practice is prevalent

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Cairo – An ad by a French automaker sparked controversy in Egypt after activists said it promoted sexual harassment in a country where the practice is prevalent.

An ad released last month by Citroen’s Egyptian arm showed popular Egyptian singer and actor Amar Diab driving the latest version of the company’s C4 before suddenly stopping in front of a woman crossing the street.

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Diab looks at the woman and takes a picture of her with the camera in the car’s rearview mirror. The singer is seen smiling as the image of the woman appears on his phone. Then both are seen together as if they are on a date.

Although apparently intended to showcase the car’s camera, the ad criticized the automaker and the 60-year-old singer, who is seen as a role model for many in the Arab world.

Under pressure from online backlash, Citron Egypt offered an apology and removed the 100-second ad.

“We are deeply sorry and we understand the negative interpretation of this part of this film. Together with our business partner in Egypt, we have decided to withdraw this advertisement from all Citron channels and we wish to express our condolences to all the communities hurt by this film. Present your sincere apologies,” it said in a statement.

There was no comment from Diab, who still has the video on his social media accounts with millions of followers.

Sexual harassment, mostly from catcalls to the occasional nip or grabbing, is rampant in Egypt, a conservative Muslim country with more than 100 million people.

Speak Up, an Egyptian feminist initiative, called the ad “scary” and said it “promotes girls to be casually photographed on the street without their consent just because she likes them.”

“Everything can be a double-edged sword. In this ad, @Citroen #Egypt chose to show off the negatives of its new C4 features, from harming people’s privacy to harassing girls in the street! #MeToo,” a user named The Lady said in a post on Twitter.

Feminist Saba Khodir attacked the automaker, accusing it of exploiting women’s struggle against gender-based violence “as an opportunity to sell vehicles”.

She called on Honey Sheker, the head of the Egyptian Musicians Association, to launch an investigation into Diab’s involvement in the ad.

“I wonder what Honey Shaker… thinks about Amar Diab promoting sexual harassment in the new @citroen ad, or is it not against Egyptian cultural values?” she said in an Instagram post.

The magnitude of Egypt’s sexual assault and violence problem came to the fore in the years following the 2011 popular uprising, which overthrew longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, when gang rapes and sexual assault occurred during several protests.

A 2017 survey by UN Women and a non-governmental organization Promundo found that nearly 60% of Egyptian women say they have been sexually assaulted, and about 65% of men admit to harassing women. Although they have mainly accepted ogling.

In recent years, organized efforts by civil society to combat the phenomenon have encouraged women to be more vocal about it, despite the insistence of a large segment in society that it does not exist. Several women inspired by the #MeToo movement have also spoken about the practice on social media.

Authorities have increased the penalties for sexual assault in their penal code, making the practice punishable by up to five years in prison.

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