Young Egyptian TikTok stars have become the latest target of state authorities, who accuse them of spreading immorality in society.

Since President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi came to power in 2014, hundreds of journalists, activists, lawyers and intellectuals have been arrested and many websites blocked in the name of state security.

Haneen Hossam was accused of promoting prostitution

But in recent months a popular group of female social media influencers has also drawn the ire of the government and several have been arrested.

University student Haneen Hossam was accused of promoting prostitution and arrested in April after she posted a clip telling her more than 1.3 million followers that girls could make money on TikTok.

Mowada al-Adham, who rose to fame posting satirical clips on TikTok and Instagram, was arrested in May. The prosecutor general said both women were charged with “attacking the family values of Egyptian society” through their posts.

A court ordered Hossam’s release on bail this week, but a statement by the prosecutor general on Thursday said she had been re-arrested after new evidence was brought against her.

The young women drew a storm of sexist and hateful comments

“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 in May. A sobbing 17-year old girl, 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. She deserves to be punished.

The Prosecutor General

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 centre for female victims of abuse and violence.

Human rights lawyer Tarek al-Awadi said the recent arrests showed how a deeply conservative and religious society was wrestling with the rapid rise of modern communications technology.

There is a technological revolution happening and legislators need to take into account a constantly changing environment.

Tarek al-Awadi – Human Rights Lawyer

The latest arrests fitted into a wider pattern of the state targeting dissent online, said Joey Shea, a non-resident fellow researching cybersecurity at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

This is yet another attempt to increase and legitimize surveillance of digital platforms, she said pointing to laws criminalizing fake news that are used to restrict freedom of expression.

The feminist Ghadeer Ahmed argued the latest crackdown was also about class and status.

Young women used the internet to create different opportunities for themselves that are ordinarily unavailable because of their class.

Ghadeer Ahmed

In the eyes of many Egyptians this is contrary to the behavior expected of women hailing from poor classes.

Source: The Guardian

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