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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's top Sunni Muslim authority has called for strong penalties against perpetrators of sexual harassment, following a recent increase in reports.

Several incidents, apparently recorded by victims or bystanders during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday last week and posted on social media, left many Egyptians in shock.

One showed a brawl in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria where a 40-year-old man was stabbed to death when he tried to fend off another man harassing his wife.

Local media said the unidentified 39-year-old attacker was in custody.

In another social media post, a crowd of young men in the Nile delta city of Damanhour fought off a motorbike rider as he tried to rescue three women being mobbed on a public street.

The authenticity of the recordings could not be independently verified, but some local media had reported on them.

In a statement first issued on Monday, al-Azhar said sexual harassment in any form was deviant behaviour, and rejected any attempt to blame the way some women dress or behave.

"Al-Azhar has closely followed up the reports of sexual harassment incidents recently circulated by the mass media outlets and social media networks including harassers’ violent attacks on those trying to save women," the statement, also issued in English on Tuesday, said.

"Al-Azhar asserts that criminalising harassment and those who commit harassment must be absolute and without any condition or context," it added.

The statement rejected any attempt to blame women for sexual harassment, saying abuse "violates women's privacy, freedom and human dignity".

Al-Azhar demanded the activation of all laws that punish sexual abuse and called for efforts to raise social awareness.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered a crackdown on sexual harassment after he was elected for his first term in office in 2014, following an incident in which seven men were arrested for attacking women near Cairo’s Tahrir Square during his inauguration celebrations,

Earlier this year, an Egyptian court jailed a Lebanese woman for eight years for insulting Egypt and Egyptians after she posted a video on Facebook complaining of sexual harassment.

(Reporting by Ali Abdelaty and Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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Reuters