Young Egyptian women with thousands of followers each on the TikTok app have become the latest target of state authorities who accuse them of spreading “immorality” in society.
Hundreds of journalists, activists, lawyers and intellectuals have been arrested since Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi came to power in 2014, and many Web sites blocked in the name of state security.
However, over the past few months, a group of female social media “influencers” has also drawn the ire of the government, and several have been arrested in a crackdown cheered by many in the deeply conservative country.
University student Haneen Hossam in April posted a three-minute video clip telling her more than 1.3 million followers that girls on the social media platform could make money working with her.
“You will get to know new people and form friendships in a respectful manner ... but please keep it clean,” she said, smiling cheekily from under a red veil.
“The most important thing for me is my reputation,” she said, adding that collaborators, depending on the number of clicks, could earn thousands of dollars.
Following allegations from online users that she was promoting prostitution, Egyptian police arrested Hossam on April 21, with a court only ordering her release on bail this week.
Last month, another influencer was arrested, Mowada al-Adham, who rose to fame posting satirical clips on TikTok and Instagram, where she has 2 million followers.
Egyptian Prosecutor General Hamada al-Sawi said that both women were charged with “attacking the family values of Egyptian society” through their inflammatory posts.
The young women also drew a storm of sexist and hateful comments online.
“This is excellent,” wrote one user about the arrests, arguing that Egyptian justice must safeguard “the morals of the Egyptian street and society... It needs to do it with an iron fist.”
An even more shocking case followed later last month.
A sobbing Menna Abdel-Aziz, 17, her face battered and bruised, posted a TikTok video in which she said she had been gang raped by a group of young men.
The authorities’ response was swift: She was arrested, along with her six alleged attackers, and all were charged with “promoting debauchery.”
“She committed crimes, she admitted to some of them,” the prosecutor general said in a statement. “She deserves to be punished.”
The non-government Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights called for her immediate release, the dropping of all charges, and for the teenage girl to be “treated as a rape victim and survivor.”
Only this Tuesday did prosecutors announce that she had been transferred from custody to a rehabilitation center for female victims of abuse and violence.
Human rights lawyer Tarek al-Awadi said that the arrests show how a deeply conservative and religious society is wrestling with the rapid rise of modern communications technology.
“There is a technological revolution happening and legislators need to take into account a changing environment,” al-Awadi said.
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