Egypt jails five female TikTok influencers over 'indecent' content

28 July 2020, 08:17

The verdict against Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others came after they posted videos on the app.
The verdict against Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others came after they posted videos on the app. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A court in Egypt has sentenced five female social media influencers to two years in jail each on charges of violating public morals after posting "indecent" videos on TikTok.

The women were also fined £14,700 for "violating the values and principles of the Egyptian family," inciting debauchery and promoting human trafficking, according to a statement from the public prosecutor.

Critics have suggested the case is a further crackdown on self-expression in the conservative society.

A statement from the prosecution only named two of the women 20-year-old student Haneen Hossam and 22-year-old Mawada Eladhm while the other three were accused of helping to run their social media accounts.

The pair have shot to fame on the social media platform with millions of followers and hundreds of thousands of views posting video snippets set to catchy Egyptian club-pop tracks.

In their respective 15-second clips, the women wearing makeup pose in cars, dance in kitchens and joke in skits - familiar and seemingly tame content for the platform.

But their social media stardom became their undoing in Egypt, where citizens can land in prison for vague crimes such as "misusing social media," "disseminating fake news," or "inciting debauchery and immorality."

Ms Eladhm's lawyer, Ahmed el-Bahkeri, confirmed the sentencing. The prosecution deemed Ms Eladhm's photos and videos "disgraceful and insulting".

"Eladhm was crying in court. Two years? 300,000 Egyptian pounds? This is really something very tough to hear," said Samar Shabana, the attorney's assistant.

It is believed the women's lawyers will appeal the ruling.

Although Egypt remains far more liberal than Gulf Arab states, the Muslim-majority country has swung in a decidedly conservative direction over the past half-century.

Belly dancers, pop divas and social media influencers have faced backlash for violating the norms.

The string of arrests for "moral issues" is more broadly part of a clampdown on personal freedoms that has accelerated since President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi came to power in 2013.

A widely circulated online petition described the arrests as a "systematic crackdown that targets low-income women," and urged authorities to free the nine young women detained in recent months for posting TikTok videos.