French car manufacturer Citroen has removed an Egyptian advert for its C4 model after social media users said it normalised sexual harassment in a country where women are continually subject to unwanted and inappropriate attention from men.
The advertisement was released in early December and features Egyptian pop star Amr Diab.
In the highly produced film, the 60-year-old singer uses a camera in the car’s rear-view mirror to take a picture of a young woman crossing the road without her consent and appears to download the image to his phone. Later in the film the two are seen together travelling across Egypt in the car.
Citroen said the HD camera “had been designed to capture unique driving moments as well as to improve safety” but the manufacturer understood that the commercial’s use of the feature could be seen as inappropriate.
The advert had prompted a fierce backlash on social media.
Writing on Twitter, Reem Abdellatif, an American Egyptian writer said: “Sexual harassment and assault are pandemics stalking the Middle East, aided by fear and the impunity granted to perpetrators”.
She also drew attention to an earlier version of the commercial from October which shows a man using the camera feature to take a consensual photograph of his partner, the “Egyptian version was altered to fit a misogynistic, predatorial culture,” she said.
According to a survey by the Arab Barometer research network, sexual harassment is a serious problem in Egypt with 90 per cent of women aged 18-29, and 88 per cent of women aged 30-39, reporting some form of sexual harassment in 2019.
Writer Amal Alharithi also highlighted that the blame was not just on Diab but on “the entire crew” who “did not realize the error in the advertisement”.
Amr Diab has not publicly apologised and the advertisement is still on his Twitter feed, which has 11.4 million followers.
The United Nations defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”. In July, the Egyptian parliament approved harsher penalties for sexual harassment and related crimes and upgraded them to felony offences.
Only two months earlier in May public prosecutors shelved a case over a woman’s allegation that she was gang raped at a luxury hotel in Cairo in 2014 because of “insufficient evidence” against the defendants.