Four young Egyptian women on the popular social media app TikTok have been arrested by state authorities accusing them of spreading “immorality” with their content.

These women are the most recent targets of state authorities monitoring social media accounts for “offensive” content. Since President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s election in 2014, hundreds of dissident public persons, including journalists, authors, activists, academics, and lawyers, have been arrested under the guise of state security.

Cairo University student Haneen Hossam was arrested April 21 for allegedly promoting prostitution after posting a clip in which she told her 1.3 million TikTok followers that girls could make money on the app. Another influencer with more than two million followers on Instagram and TikTok, Mowada al-Adham, was arrested in late May for posting inflammatory satirical videos.

The 22-year-old TikTok star, Mawada Eladhm, was arrested on May 14. Her arrest generated significant press attention and outrage from her five million followers. Many pointed to the fact that, unlike Hossam and al-Adham’s content, most of Eladhm’s videos were the type of videos a majority of users post on TikTok: dancing and lip-syncing to popular songs and showing off recent purchases, such as clothing and make-up.

The three women were all charged with “attacking the family values of Egyptian society.” Reports from private citizens to the General Department for the Protection of Moral Values instigated their arrests.

Hossam was released on bail earlier this week, but she was re-arrested on Thursday. According to a statement by the prosecutor general, “new evidence was brought against her” that necessitated her re-arrest and would bring additional charges.

Menna Abdel-Aziz, a 17 year-old-girl, was also arrested in late May for posting a clip on TikTok in which she alleged that she was gang-raped by a group of young men. The video shows her sobbing, her face battered and visibly bruised.

She was promptly arrested, along with her six accused attackers. All were charged with “promoting debauchery.”

The non-governmental organization Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights swiftly called for her immediate release. In their statement, they demanded that the young woman be “treated as a rape victim and survivor” rather than a criminal. Prosecutors announced Thursday that she had been transferred from police custody to a rehabilitation center for female victims of abuse and sexual violence.

The targeting of social media influencers fits into a pattern of state interest in squashing dissent online, said Joey Shea, who studies cybersecurity at the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

“This is yet another attempt to increase and legitimize surveillance of digital platforms,” she told the Guardian, pointing to other laws meant to limit freedom of expression.

Hossam, al-Adham, and Eladhm all remain in state custody and await formal criminal proceedings. At least three other social media influencers, whose names have not been released, have also been arrested in the last month.

Sources: The Guardian 6/12/2020; The North Africa Journal 6/11/2020; Egyptian Streets 5/19/2020

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