“They are happy and celebrating,” television anchor Maha Bahnassy laughed after receiving reports that women were being sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square on Sunday night, as Cairo took to the streets on the occasion of newly elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s inauguration.
Bahnassy made the comment while broadcasting live on the privately owned channel Tahrir TV, immediately sparking an uproar on social media.
Viewers took to the Internet to lambaste the anchor for giving an unjustifiable pretext for the sexual violence, which has repeatedly and systematically occurred in the square for the past three years.
In response to the outcry, Bahnassy claimed she was not responding to the field reporter with her comment, saying that she was talking to guests in the studio while unaware that her microphone was on.
“I’m not justifying. I’m explaining the incident. I was talking to the guests about the happiness of Egyptians, not about the harassment. It was a side comment that was not directed at the reporter or what she said. This is a consistent smear campaign against me,” Bahnassy declared on her official Facebook page.
Tahrir TV released a statement reiterating Bahnassy’s explanation, saying that her comments had nothing to do with the sexual assault.
“The channel’s administration presents its extreme apologies over this incident, showing solidarity with all institutions and organizations working on women’s rights,” the statement added.
Bahnassy also said that she thought that the reported sexual assaults were mere rumors.
But reporter Samar Negida, who broke the news of the assaults from the field, rebuked the television host for her attitude.
Negida tweeted that the anchor’s apology was “unacceptable,” condemning Bahnassy for questioning the credibility of her report when she had clearly confirmed, on air, the incidents of sexual assault.