April 28, 2020 / 5:55 PM / a month ago

Calls in Egypt for censored social media after arrests of TikTok star, belly dancer

AMMAN, April 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Egyptian lawmakers have called for stricter surveillance of women on video sharing apps after the arrests of a popular social media influencer and a well-known belly dancer on charges of debauchery and inciting immorality.

Instagram and TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam, 20, is under 15 days detention for a post encouraging women to broadcast videos in exchange for money, while dancer Sama el-Masry faces 15 days detention for posting “indecent” photos and videos.

MP John Talaat was among several politicians to complain, and has submitted a request to Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly to increase monitoring and censorship of apps that young people use to post “unethical” and “inappropriate” videos.

“Because of a lack of surveillance some people are exploiting these apps in a manner that violates public morals and Egypt’s customs and traditions,” Talaat said on Facebook.

He did not respond to requests for additional comments about the video sharing apps that have become increasingly popular with younger people during the coronavirus lockdowns.

In 2018 Egypt adopted a cyber crime law that grants the government full authority to censor the internet and exercise communication surveillance. A media regulation law also allows authorities to block individual social media accounts.

The Egyptian government was not immediately available to comment on the cases of el-Masry and Hossam - a student with about one million followers on TikTok and Instagram - who are being held in detention separately while under investigation.

Several women in Egypt have previously been accused of “inciting debauchery” by challenging the country’s conservative social norms, including actress Rania Youssef after critics took against her choice of dress for the Cairo Film Festival in 2018.

Hossam was arrested after posting a now-expired video on Instagram explaining how women could earn up to US$3,000 by broadcasting videos in exchange for money using the Singapore-based video creation platform Likee owned by China’s Joyy Inc..

“All you need is good lighting and a good internet connection,” Hossam posted.

But her message was interpreted by Egyptian authorities as a promotion for young women to sell sex online, with the public prosecutor saying her actions took advantage of the poor financial state of young women and minors.

Hossam denied any wrongdoing but Cairo University - where she is studying archaeology - said it would enforce maximum penalties against her which could include expulsion.

“Celebrities use live video apps for work too. Does that mean they work as prostitutes?” Hossam retorted on Instagram.

El-Masry is being investigated for videos and photos that the public prosecution described as sexually suggestive. The dancer denied the accusations, saying the content had been stolen and shared from her phone without consent.

Egyptian women’s rights campaigner Ghadeer Ahmed blamed the arrests on rising social pressures on women and “corrupt laws”.

"[These laws] condemn people for their behaviour that may not conform to imagined social standards for how to be a 'good citizen' and a respectful woman," she wrote in a Tweet. (Reporting by Ban Barkawi @banbarkawi; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org)

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