Egypt grapples with women’s freedoms online as #MeToo re-emerges

This combination of pictures shows a woman watching videos of video of (L to R) Egyptian influencers Haneen Hossam and Mowada Al-Adham, who were sentenced to two years in prison on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo. (FILE/AFP/ Khaled Desouki)
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Updated 02 August 2020

Egypt grapples with women’s freedoms online as #MeToo re-emerges

  • Egypt has in recent years enforced strict Internet controls
  • Stringent laws were approved in 2018 allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security

CAIRO: Social media has become a new and dangerous battleground for women’s rights in Egypt after young TikTok influencers were jailed while a resurgent #MeToo movement decried male sexual violence.
Last Monday, a court sentenced five female social media influencers, Haneen Hossam, Mowada Al-Adham and three others, to two years in jail each on charges of violating public morals over content posted to video-sharing app TikTok.
International digital rights group Access Now described them as “all women, all young, all exercising their right to freedom of expression online.”
Just two days later, a court sentenced another young social media influencer, Manar Samy, to three years in prison over TikTok videos, deeming the clips in which she dances and lip-syncs to popular songs to be “inciting debauchery.”
Many in the deeply conservative country have cheered on the arrests, as traditional social values clash with online content seen as racy and sexually suggestive.
“The Egyptian government is on a campaign to arrest and prosecute women influencers on... TikTok for violating ‘the values of the Egyptian family’ and ‘inciting debauchery and immorality,’” Access Now said in a statement.
The Egyptian authorities “not only want to control what citizens say, but also how they should dress, talk, and behave online,” said Marwa Fatafta, the group’s Middle East and North Africa policy manager.

Egypt has in recent years enforced strict Internet controls as it walks a tight line between balancing the Islamic law that shapes its governance and adapting to a rapidly shifting society with a penchant for social media content.
Stringent laws were approved in 2018 allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security and to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers.
“In the past, the Egyptian regime tightened its stronghold on the Internet... Now, the online repression extends to non-political activity too,” said Fatafta.
The six jailed women combined have millions of followers.
Hossam was arrested after posting a clip saying that girls could make money by working with her, a message that was interpreted as a call for prostitution, while Adham had posted satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram.
Aside from being a virtual battleground of competing interpretations of morality, social media has also empowered young Egyptian women to speak up about sexual assault, sometimes with negative consequences.
In May, a shocking video came to light of a young woman sobbing, her face battered and bruised.
Menna Abdel-Aziz, 17, posted an Instagram video in which she said she had been gang raped by a group of young men.
The authorities’ response was swift: the six alleged attackers were arrested — but so was Abdel-Aziz. 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.”

Since Abdel-Aziz’s case surfaced, a revived #MeToo movement among Egyptian women, mostly from affluent backgrounds, has sprung into action.
A gang rape allegation made in late July stemming from a prominent social media account has been one trigger.
Another was young women posting testimonials about sexual misconduct that led to the arrest earlier in the month of Ahmed Bassam Zaki, 22, a former student of some of Egypt’s most elite schools and universities.
But the movement faces an uphill battle.
Rights groups say the government of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has been curtailing freedoms since he took office in 2014.
Comedians, academics, bloggers, journalists, political dissidents, lawyers and activists are among those who have been jailed in recent years, and a music video director has died in custody.
Imprisoning social media influencers, the latest group to be targeted, “has nothing to do with protecting social values. It’s about Internet policing and control,” Access Now’s Fatafta said.
“With the massive increase in content creators and influencers on TikTok in Egypt, there is a high risk that more prosecutions targeting this community are yet to come,” the organization added.


Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

Updated 13 August 2020

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

  • The new program will support local media outlets

The Facebook Journalism Project, in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), has announced that it will invest $300,000 in a program that aims to support the stabilization and recovery needs of journalists and news organizations in Lebanon affected by the Beirut explosion.

The new program called “Supporting Beirut: Response and Recovery Fund” will assist in supporting local media outlets that have suffered damage to infrastructure and resources.

ICFJ and Facebook will award $150,000 in emergency relief funds to Beirut-based news organizations and journalists directly impacted by the blast and in need of urgent financial support.

The first phase of this program will involve identifying Lebanese news organizations and journalists who require financial support. These journalists and news organizations will then be able to apply for immediate emergency relief grants. ICFJ will award grants to select Beirut-based news organizations and journalists who meet a set criteria.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lebanon and everyone affected by this immeasurable tragedy,” said Mohamed Omar, news partnerships manager, Middle East and North Africa, at Facebook. “We’ve been getting regular updates from our contacts in Beirut; the damage to the city’s infrastructure, including its many newsrooms, is enormous. In spite of these devastating circumstances, the news industry is working hard, under extraordinary conditions, to keep people informed and updated,” he said.

“We applaud their efforts and are continuously working with our partners to both understand their needs and support them the best we can,” he added.

ICFJ, a non-profit organization focused on raising the quality of journalism worldwide, will mobilize its local networks to implement a two-phase response and recovery initiative for the Beirut crisis.

Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ’s senior vice president for new initiatives, said: “People turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe. As the impact of the devastating explosion continues to unfold in Beirut, ICFJ is prepared to work with the Facebook Journalism Project to provide tailored support to Lebanese journalists and news organizations that are providing critical information to a nation in crisis.”

The Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ will offer additional, deeper support to select Beirut-based news organizations during phase two, depending on the longer-term impacts of the crisis.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would donate more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by its community as part of a Facebook fundraiser.