Egyptian Woman Arrested for TikTok Fame


Sadie Dodson, Reporter

Over the past year, TikTok has grown to be one of the most popular social media platforms, amassing over 800 million active users worldwide–so what happens when something as light hearted and small as posting a TikTok puts you at risk of being imprisoned? 

In July of 2020, five young women, three of whom remain anonymous, in Cairo, Egypt were sentenced to two years in prison for posting what were seen as “‘indecent’ dance videos on TikTok” (APnews). Over the course of this year, the two known women–Haneen Hossam, age 20, and Mawada el-Adham, age 22—gained millions of followers on TikTok and other platforms for videos they posted of them dancing, singing, and clowning about (NyTimes). Although these types of videos are typical content on the app, in Egypt, there is strict monitorization and restrictions on social media platforms, and “the government exerts tight controls over traditional media like newspapers and television and has used courts to patrol digital platforms beyond its reach.” (NyTimes). This type of arrest not only shames the women, but their families as well, as it challenges Egyptian moral and religious values. In response to these unjustified arrests, Rahma el-Adham, Mawada el-Adham’s older sister, exclaimed in a tearful interview with a television station, “they have destroyed us, they have destroyed an entire family.”

 Violation of freedom of speech and expression has been prevalent in Egypt for many years now. Arrests for “moral issues” are more broadly a part of a clampdown on personal freedoms that have accelerated since President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi came to power in 2013 (Apnews).  In fact, Hossam and el-Adham’s convictions were the first verdicts from a series of at least nine arrests of young Egyptian women who are prominent on TikTok since April (NYTimes). As a result of Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s presidency, the Muslim-majority country has swung in a “decidedly conservative direction. Belly dancers, pop divas and social media influencers have faced backlash for violating the norms” (Apnews).

In response to this violation of human rights, there has been heightened activism in Cairo and around Egypt. In early July, human rights activists launched a digital campaign to demand Hossam and el-Adham’s release (APNews). Their biggest argument is that the justice system reflects the class structures and inequality in Egypt. For example, Egyptian activists say that social class partly accounts for the differing treatment of women in similar court cases (NYTimes). They believe that because most women on TikTok come from working or middle-class backgrounds, prosecutors are much more willing to come down severely on them, compared to women of higher social status. 

While the idea that tame social media posts could wind you up in jail seems absurd, the issue of government media restrictions and control is something that demands international attention. In fact, activists started a petition to release the five influencers on Change.Org. This petition reached other countries across the world, and by August 4th, it had over 7,300 signatures (Dazed). Human rights issues should not be the concern of a single country or community; it is our job to support each other and protect our most valuable rights, no matter the geographical boundaries.