Foolishness in shark costume, a disguise show with ethnic clothes, posing with blue-colored fools in a luxury car: The videos, for which more than three million Internet users loved the Egyptian Mawada el-Adham, can hardly be classified as political. The 22-year-old was far from activism, such as that of El-Adam’s blue-haired colleague Rezo from Germany, when he wanted to destroy the CDU. Nevertheless, the student is now supposed to be jailed for two years and pay a fine of £ 300,000, about € 16,000. Together with another influencer and three unnamed “helpers”, she sentenced a court in Cairo on Monday. There will be an appointment hearing in mid-August.
The verdict against her and the 20-year-old Haneen Hossam, who, unlike el-Adham, wears a headscarf and has explained to users how videos can make money on social networks and who was therefore accused of calling for prostitution, has come to an end the so-called “Tiktok process”. The procedure, which is officially closed to the public because of the corona virus, is named after the network platform on which the women were active. The portal, which originated in China, has grown rapidly in the past few years. The users of the app, which has now been downloaded more than two billion times, are particularly pleased with videos in which other user singing playback or filming themselves in so-called “challenges” – small tasks, which derive their charm from the fine line between skill and slapstik.
While the Egyptian authorities have so far mainly targeted activists and unpleasant online publications – the investigative portal Mada Masr, for example, has been repeatedly blocked and its editors arrested – the action against the female Tiktok stars has a different background: both were charged with “violating Family Values and Principles “condemned, a fact as vague as it is flexible, but which has been anchored in an Egyptian law against cybercrime and the misuse of information technologies since 2018, but is not defined in any more detail. “Can we at least know what these values are?” therefore asks a petition against criminalizing influencers.
The process is in line with others in the recent past
There have been repeated judgments against singers, actors and belly dancers for overly revealing representations or texts in Egypt. Most of the courts became active because citizens filed complaints who were offended by their moral standards. Meanwhile, however, the authorities on the Nile are increasingly acting on their own initiative, such as in the cases of Mawada al-Adham and Haneen Hossam and seven other young women who are waiting for their trials. According to reports from the Egyptian media, the Ministry of Interior has instructed the morale to proactively prosecute violations of the law, and a Attorney General appointed in 2019 has also created another social media surveillance unit.
The importance of social media for the protest movement in Egypt, which ushered in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has been described a lot and has been overestimated – large parts of the dissatisfied masses found their way to Tahrirplatz without a Facebook invitation. For the government apparatus, which is once again fully in authoritarian mode, rooms in the network that are difficult to control are still a nightmare. This was most recently shown in the fall of 2019, when the actor and ex-entrepreneur Mohamed Ali, who lives in Spain, exposed videos in a rude tone of corruption and called for the overthrow of the president: millions of Egyptians saw the clips and sometimes even took to the streets as Ali called to it.
In order to prevent apolitical figures like soap star Mohamed Ali from suddenly developing a political profile on their online presences, the government and the parliamentary majority devoted to President Abdelfattah al-Sisi are trying to restrict the freedom of movement on the Internet: the same law, that committed itself to protecting family values in 2018, reports to social media accounts with more than 5,000 media surveillance followers. Content that the state believes is incorrect or misleading can be censored or blocked. And not only their authors, but also consumers who have visited the pages can be prosecuted – which, however, should overwhelm the gigantic Egyptian police force itself in the case of the millions of audiences of the two influencers.