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Egypt’s Vice Police are Targeting Social Media Users for ‘Violation of Public Morals’

May 19, 2020

Egypt’s Minister of Interior Mahmoud Tawfik has reportedly issued ‘strict instructions’ to the Ministry of Interior’s General Department for the Protection of Moral Values and Information Technology to monitor social media accounts for any content that harms or offends public morals, family sanctity, the traditions of society or otherwise promotes debauchery.

According to local media reports, the monitoring and targeting of social media for content that violates public morals or presents Egypt in a bad light is ongoing, with instructions from the Minister of Interior to take action against all those deemed to have published any such content. Companies, publishers and anyone else involved in the publication and circulation of any offending content will also be targeted.

The news comes days after popular TikTok star Mawada Eladhm was arrested on charges of “violating family principles and values in Egyptian society” and “establishing, managing and using [websites and social media accounts] with the aim of committing those crimes”.

The 22-year-old, who has more than five million followers across her social media platforms, was arrested on the 14th of May after being tracked by vice police officers working for the General Department for the Protection of Moral Values.

Eladhm’s arrest stirred outrage on social media, with many pointing to the fact that most of her videos were ‘ordinary’ and consisted of the type of content users expect to see on TikTok and other social media networks: dancing to songs, lip syncing, and showing off fashion trends.

Why is this significant?

Though Egypt has seen a number of artists, writers and entertainers arrested in recent years for violating public morals, the vast majority of these cases involved a private citizen filing a complaint to prosecutors. In a number of these cases, prison sentences have been handed down.

Based on what has been reported about the instructions of the Minister of Interior, Egyptian vice police are taking a more proactive approach by actively monitoring and targeting social media users in order to prevent violation of public morals.

It remains unclear whether vice police will also start targeting people across other mediums, such as television, movies, live performances and more. Previously, unless a private citizen had filed a legal complaint, consequences ranged from fines to bans.

In February 2020, Egypt’s Musicians Syndicate issued a decree banning all mahraganat singers from performing in any festivals, clubs, cafes or other concerts. The decision was taken after mahraganat singer Hassan Shakoush sang the lyrics “I drink alcohol and smoke hashish”.

“This type of music is based on promiscuous and immoral lyrics, which is completely prohibited, and as such, the door is closed on it,” said the Musicians Syndicate head Hany Shaker at the time.

However, Shakoush and other mahraganat singers have not been targeted by vice police or other governmental authorities.

What’s happening with Mawada Eladhm?

On Saturday 16 May, a North Cairo judge renewed Eladhm’s detention by a further 15 days pending investigation, reported Al Masry Al Youm. On Monday 18 May, Eladhm’s appeal against the decision to renew her imprisonment was rejected, and she was sent to the women’s prison facility at Al-Qanatir Al-Khayriyah pending further investigations.

Eladhm joins another popular TikTok star at the women’s prison facility. Haneen Hossam was arrested on 21 April for “inciting debauchery” and “promoting human trafficking” through her use of TikTok. Hossam, with more than 1.2 million followers, had told her followers how they can make money through creating live videos and talking to strangers on social media.

According to Youm7, both Eladhm and Hossam have been joined in the same legal case by prosecutors, Case No. 4917/2020, along with 10 others.

Both Eladhm and Hossam, along with six unidentified Egyptian men who have been sent to Tora Prison and four unidentified foreigners who are wanted for arrest, have been accused of committing immoral acts, spreading pornographic content, threatening the sanctity of the Egyptian community and family values, and presenting a poor image of Egyptian women and society.

There is no connection between Eladhm, Hossam, the six men and the four foreigners beyond the fact that they are all accused of similar charges. Prosecutors are not alleging that the accused acted together or knew each other.

It remains to be seen how far prosecutors will take the case against Eladhm and others. One thing is clear though, creators on social media should be on notice.

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