Egyptian authorities have been utilising a cybercrime law to imprison female social media influencers since 2020, accusing them of breaking public morals and undermining family values. Salma Elshimy, a TikTok celebrity, became the latest in an increasing number of female social media influencers to face legal consequences for posts last week.
Elshimy had just arrived at Cairo International Airport on April 3 when she was arrested on grounds of encouraging debauchery and violating family values through her social media posts. The Egyptian model and influencer, who has 3.3 million TikTok followers, was returning from a vacation to Dubai, where she applied for residency ahead of a planned move.
A photographer from the United Arab Emirates reported her detention to the Egyptian news website Mada. According to the Middle East Monitor in Qatar, Egypt’s public prosecutor has ordered her detention for four days on grounds of spreading immorality and disseminating recordings and images that contradict social morals and values.
Lawyer Hany Sameh, a member of the Lawyers Syndicate’s liberties committee who has worked on similar cases in the past, described Elshimy’s charges as vague. He described them as “vestiges of regressive male chauvinism that is uncompromising against women” in an interview with Mada.
According to Amr Magdi, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), the arrests of female social media influencers are becoming more common in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “Egyptian authorities arrested yet another female influencer for ‘debauchery’ just because she posts photos we see in everyday life and TVs,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that arrests of women on morality charges have skyrocketed under al-Sisi.
Continuous Arrest of Female Social Media Influencers
Elshimy’s arrest is not her first run-in with the law. After taking part in a picture session outside the Saqqara necropolis, near the ancient city of Memphis, the popular influencer was detained for a month in December 2020 and later freed on bail.
The fashion blogger was reported to the police for uploading photos of herself dressed in ancient Egyptian attire in front of Egypt’s most recognisable monument, the Pyramid of Djoser. The local press accused her of exploiting the cultural value of the antiquities while dressed in inappropriate Pharaonic attire.
If found guilty, Elshimy faces up to five years in prison and a punishment of 8,700 dollars for violating public morality, as well as six months in prison and a fine of up to 3,000 euros for infringing on family principles and values in Egyptian society.
On 20 June, Cairo’s Criminal Court convicted and sentenced female social media influencers Hanin Hossam, 22, and Mawada el-Adham, 20, of inciting young women to broadcast indecent content on social media to earn money, commercial exploitation, human trafficking, and other offences. Amnesty International believes they were penalised for the way they dance, talk, dress, and try to influence the public online, in the midst of the authorities’ crackdown on women’s freedom of expression and efforts to control women’s online behaviour.
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