Outgoing President Adly Mansour issued a decree calling for a minimum six-month jail term and a fine of 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($420), with higher penalties to employers and repeat offenders, for those convicted of the offense.
A 2013 United Nations survey indicated 99.3 percent of Egyptian women claimed they had experienced sexual harassment, but prosecutions have been rare, with suspects typically accused of the more vague charge of physical assault. It is often the victims who are blamed.
Activists welcomed the news of the new categorization, but it remains unclear if the law will be enforced.
"The biggest issue is still the cultural one: society doesn't see it as a crime, and police often tend to sympathize with harassers or be harassers themselves. Even when someone manages to get to the police station to report harassment, she will still encounter resistance from police officers, who will try to deter her from going through with filing the police report," said Eba'a El-Tamimi, a spokesperson for the activist group HarassMap.
A rural police official, Col. Ahmed el-Dahaby, said the law would be taken seriously by police, but advised it was a societal issue.
"Our traditions are the thing that stop people from filing charges," he said. "The girls are scared -- they're too ashamed."
Activists are seeking a broader law that better defines the crime of sexual harassment and makes the judicial process simpler.