Why is Egypt arresting and jailing TikTok creators?

Video and words by Amani Ibrahimi, ITV News' Here's The Story

Egypt is pursuing a "campaign" against female influencers on TikTok and "criminalising women just for being women on social media", a human rights charity has said. For the last couple of years, Egypt has been arresting and jailing people over their TikTok videos as the country tries to crack down on social media influencers.

At least a dozen women since 2020 have been prosecuted for what Egyptian authorities describe as ''attacking family values''.

16-year-old Nancy Al-Sayed was sentenced to a year in prison. Credit: TikTok

In April, a 16-year-old girl was jailed in Giza after her videos were seen as being too ‘provocative’.

Nancy Al-Sayed, who published her videos under the name Moka Hijazi, was sentenced to a year in prison.

Her boyfriend, who is said to have filmed her, was accused of exploiting her by forcing her to post on TikTok.

They were both accused of violating the values and principles of society. But critics say those values are not clearly defined in Egyptian law.

''The Egyptian authorities have been trying to control what is being said on social media for a very long time," Hussein Baoumi, a researcher at Amnesty for the Middle East and North Africa, told ITV News."Initially they started with mostly political issues, going after people who criticise the government, president or military. [The offence of] attacking family values means that the prosecutors have seen these videos and have decided that this attacks family values under cyber crime law. It doesn’t really explain what family values or morals are; it's quite vague.''

Since Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi took office as Egypt’s President in 2014 he’s faced a lot of backlash and criticism from campaign groups over his approach to human rights.

Which other TikTokers have been jailed?

Haneen Hossam was jailed after she was accused of encouraging women to sell sex online. Credit: Instagram

A case which attracted widespread attention was that of Haneen Hossam. She was a huge TikToker in Egypt with more than two million followers. She would often post videos on the platform of her dancing and lip-syncing to music.

In 2020, Haneen was accused of encouraging women to sell sex online after she posted an ad on her Instagram about an app called Likee - a social media platform similar to TikTok.

She had posted an ad saying that people were able to get paid if they live streamed on Likee.

Authorities saw that ad as being unacceptable and in 2020 she was arrested for ''attacking society’s values'', which she denied.

An appeals court acquitted Haneen and she was released but then prosecutors introduced a more serious charge and accused her of ''human trafficking''.

She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which was eventually brought down to three years.

Mawada El-Adhm, also in her 20s, was arrested at the same time as Haneen for ''violating family values and principles''. Credit: Instagram

Mawada El-Adhm, also in her 20s, was arrested at the same time as Haneen for ''violating family values and principles''.

She was then also released but then later accused of human trafficking and given a six-year sentence.  

However it’s not just women being prosecuted.

Egypt has also tried to crack down on men whose content they deem to be offensive.

Egyptian singers, Hamo Bika and Omar Kamal were convicted of ''violating family values''. Credit: Instagram

Two famous Egyptian singers, Hamo Bika and Omar Kamal, were convicted of ''violating family values'' after a video of them with a Brazilian belly dancer went viral in 2020.

The TikTok video had been shared on Omar Kamal’s YouTube page and ended up being watched more than 10 million times.

Both were sentenced to a year in prison and fined more than £400, with the option of having their jail terms suspended, if they paid the same amount on top as a fee.

Three TikTokers who were detained over a parody song they made have been released. Credit: TikTok

Meanwhile, three TikTokers who were detained over a parody song they made about the rise in food prices in Egypt have been released.

The men are reported to be facing charges of being involved in a terrorist group and spreading fake news.

The group known as Zorafaa El-Ghalabaa on TikTok, were arrested after they changed the words in a famous Egyptian song to talk about the escalating prices in the country.

"The Egyptian government’s approach has been to have a number of high level prosecutions that are quite publicised to prevent and create this chilling effect that would prevent others from doing the same," Amnesty's Mr Baoumi told ITV News.He's urging outside international influence to protect the social media influencers inside Egypt.

"The international community needs to stand up to the Egyptian government around this issue," he said."It’s key for the international community to criticise and condemn these arrests and prosecutions and to make clear that the Egyptian authorities must ensure that they allow women and others to express their opinions or express themselves peacefully, privately and in public spaces."

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