When You Ruin Your Own Career: Hisham Allam and the Sexual Harassment Testimonies

Maya El Ammar
Lebanese Journalist

Sexual predators refuse to acknowledge that the world has already entered a new phase in the way it deals with sexual abuse and harassment cases.

Survivors’ testimonies have poured out into the open, telling their stories of being sexually abused by the Egyptian investigative journalist Hisham Allam. Phone calls -either bilateral or in groups- between female journalists from different countries started to be exposed, all of whom attended Allam’s journalism courses and experienced suspicious scenarios with him. Thoroughly, they began to read between the lines, put the puzzle pieces together to complete the big picture, and highlighted the things in common in their stories.

“I realized now that I was not the only one invited by Hisham to his room to chat about work and life. But I went with a friend of mine as I had sensed that something was not right with a veteran trainer luring young female trainees to privately sit with him in his room,” one of the colleagues whom Daraj reached out to said.  Her experience was similar to other testimonies published on “El Modawana” blog,  and was shared on social media, specifically, on the accounts of the Egyptian journalist Iman Auf, the Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim, and the Egyptian journalist Mohamed Aboul-Gheit.

The recent two testimonies that were shared by Zaina Erhaim on her page revealed that Allam would often lure young female apprentices during training and professional meetings to his car or room, pretending that he was looking for a quiet place to talk. Once he was alone with his victim, he would sexually abuse her or attempt to seduce her by pretending to be her savior from a ‘rocky’ marriage, and providing warmth and affection to the woman if he decided that she needed his support, according to several testimonies.

In the testimonies provided by some of the colleagues’ correspondence to Daraj, Allam’s favorite question to the multitude of female journalists would be, “What was the last crazy thing you did?” only to be added to the many traps he laid for his victims, like the trap of asking about the recipient’s connection with her femininity, and presenting himself as an open-minded companion. Was he not the one who would frequently tweet Sigmund Freud’s quotes, “Everything we do in our life can be attributed to two motives: sexual drive and the desire for grandiose”?

“It’s important that both male and female journalists who are well known for their credibility participate in this issue…I think we have contributed to the credibility of the survivors, especially since the testimonies were anonymous, and the blog site that published them is unknown.”

So, Allam was not satisfied with his experience in journalism and training as a fixed trap but rather enjoys going even further to play with the so-called psychological card, upon which he would build to seduce women and girls looking for someone to listen to them, especially young women who face difficult personal or professional challenges in the prime of their lives. While he is the sharp-witted journalist who has won awards for taking part in international investigative reportages, through which he proved himself as one who has professional experience that any young journalist would aspire to learn from in his life.

Unfortunately, all the testimonies published in the past few days, and Allam’s responses to them, including the fabrication of a survivor’s testimony in collaboration with two female journalists whom he said were trained by him, did not produce any legal action against him. Rather, he was the one who had the upper hand in the legal procedures with the support of the “Legal Advisers” firm and took advantage of the challenges any survivor of harassment has faced to share her story or sue him.

A New Phase

Frankly speaking, sexual predators turn a blind eye to the fact that the world has already entered a new phase in the way it deals with sexual abuse and harassment cases, particularly since the launch of the #MeToo global campaign in the past few years, and the shock waves it sent through similar local campaigns. Indeed, the mechanism of disclosure and facing harassment in our societies is not fully developed, and its rocky way has not been paved yet, but it is closer than ever to its much-coveted formation.

The nondisclosure and confidentiality law of the data for sexual abuse complainants along with the human rights endeavors to the adopt the principle of the repeated harassment committed by the same person against more than one woman, regardless of the time delay and instant evidence, are but a prove of the development of some solutions and accountability mechanisms conceived in world, particularly in Egypt for example. Yet, several Arab countries still lack the laws that criminalize harassment, with women suffering from a culture and laws that hold them responsible for being harassed and assaulted.

Until now, nothing indicates Allam’s intention to retreat from the battle he’s gotten himself into, or take a lesson from the case of the “Vermont” rapists for example, or the serial assaults committed by the Egyptian student Ahmed Bassam Zaki who was supported by his social class, and which represented blatant proof that the passage of time never suppresses the need for justice nor quells the memories of the survivors.

Clearly, Allam insists on accumulating his losses, morally and professionally, by publishing responses that lack credibility and morality and weaken his argument even more, some of which he later apologized for and deleted.

Upon contacting female journalists from different nationalities, Daraj learned that after the spread of the testimonies, Allam asked more than one former trainee to publish about his supportive situations with them, to the extent of sending them the exact words he wanted to be published.

On the other hand, when asked about his response to what was published, he suggested tightening the legal procedures without presenting any arguments, using the same old method used in similar cases by pointing the finger at systematic targeting and fabricated testimonies.

Clearly, Allam insists on accumulating his losses, morally and professionally, by publishing responses that lack credibility and morality and weaken his argument even more, some of which he later apologized for and deleted.

A “Booby-Trapped” Video and an Official Statement by Hisham Allam

The first testimony was not the one that referred to Hisham Allam by name, but rather he was the one who announced through it’s Facebook account that he was the one meant by this testimony, after the case went viral on social media, starting by a written response which disappeared from his account on August 22, and later by a long video which was also deleted from Facebook and about which he tweeted that “it was made by two journalists who were trained by #Hisham_Allam”; Rama Deep from Syria and Jasmin Mhany from Egypt.

The post published by the Syrian journalist Rama Deep, who worked briefly with the Syrian Female Journalists Network, shows that she had no role in writing, editing, or choosing the title that she described as “misleading”, explaining that her work was limited to contacting the blog site, which published three testimonies accusing Allam of sexual abuse, after receiving a request from “two Egyptian journalists”, who told her that they were working on an investigation related to that blog.

If this development proves something, it would be that even those who intended to be “objective” or “cautious” – not to say support Hisham– are looking for outlets to get out of the embarrassment of taking his side, when he is now known to have used his training role to attempt to exploit his position and professional success, according to testimonies that have come out over the week.

It is true that not all of the testimonies have been published, but a number of journalists and trainees have shared their experiences with friends or allied journalists, despite Allam’s threats of defamation and filing complaints against those who try to smear his reputation.

This is precisely what began to unravel when Mr. Yasser Sayed Ahmed, a lawyer known to have “close relationships” with influential people in Egypt, issued a statement supporting Allam in which he announced three levels of confrontation: The first was to submit a complaint to the Department of “Combating Computer and Information Networks’ Crimes” against a “website” and and “anonymous female” to verify what was published on the “blog” and the identity of those who manage it and the women who gave their testimonies to it. The second is related to separate complaints against each of the accused of offending Allam through words or images. The third and final was dedicated to women who were sexually harassed, and whom the lawyer and his client Allam, are calling upon them to file official complaints before sharing “what they call testimonies” so that the perpetrators would not “go without punishment and the innocent would not be smeared”, emphasizing that they believe that “we are in a country that respects freedom and enforces the law on everyone” as mentioned in the statement.

Feminists are Not Alone

The move did not discourage many followers from continuing to express their alarm and distrust, and to ask the institutions with which Allam is cooperating to suspend their work with him, conduct the necessary internal investigations, establish mechanisms for receiving complaints, document testimonies and take appropriate actions. This was adopted by ICIJ, which removed Allam’s name as a member off its Web page, Daraj website, and finally the Arij Investigative Journalism Network, and was supported by the International Media Support Organization (IMS) in a statement.

In parallel with this, individual efforts to verify the testimonies were voluntarily undertaken by the Syrian journalist Zina Erhim, who said to Daraj that she was surprised by the number of women who did not have any connections with her and contacted to share their experiences after the testimonies were published on her page. She indicated that she had verified the two testimonies she had published by speaking directly to the two concerned ladies, verified their identities and comparing their words with facts through a simple research she had done.

“It’s important that both male and female journalists who are well known for their credibility participate in this issue,” Erhim told “Daraj”, and continued, “I think we have contributed to the credibility of the survivors, especially since the testimonies were anonymous, and the blog site that published them is unknown. This enabled us to turn the tables and prevent questioning the website’s authenticity to the extent of discrediting all the testimonies, especially since those who shared the additional testimonies were trusted by colleagues, such as the Egyptian journalist Mohamed Aboul-Gheit.”

“I have been approached by a dear colleague and friend I have known for years,” declared Aboelgheit in a post on his Facebook page that he had received a testimony from a survivor he knew well. He wrote, “I was surprised that one of the testimonies published on the blog was hers, and she asked me to publish that. Although I know the colleague quite well, I asked her about details, and I checked the time and place mentioned in the incident with the available situational evidence and they were all already identical.”

What Comes After Disclosure?

Legally, the “Mada Masr”  website has quoted a lawyer following up on the “blog’s” work, saying that a number of lawyers “are now discussing the method of filing a complaint to the attorney general to open an investigation into the charges against Allam, in coordination with a number of female journalists who are currently collecting testimonies from their female colleagues who worked with him over the past few years”, confirming that the submission of complaints by survivors can lead to an investigation of the facts, especially after legal amendments that stipulate that the identity of survivors in the sexual abuse cases remains hidden.

Hisham Allam today is facing many testimonies with experiences and accusations ranging from minor transgression and harassment all the way up to rape, and it does not seem like they will be ending anytime soon. Barely a week after the first testimony appeared on the “blog”, another three were posted on Saturday, August 22, on the same website, adding these to the three testimonies of Erhaim and Aboul-Gheit, as well as late conversations female colleagues are still exchanging until today.

لتصلكم نشرة درج الى بريدكم الالكتروني