Egypt Abuses Internet Fredooms While Women Face High Levels of Sexual Violence

By Kelly Alvarado and Claudia Motley

The internet has become an essential part of our lives, and various platforms allow millions of people around the world to express themselves. So what happens when this freedom becomes prosecutable by government law?

Since April, ten young Egyptian influencers were prosecuted for posting content on TikTok. These women alluded the government’s attention because of their spread of “immoral” and “indecent” videos.

“The imprisonment of some opposition figures including comics, writers and youtubers who criticize the regime are selective acts that do not actually defend society’s morals or national security,” Jihan Zakarriya, author of ‘Vulnerability, resistance and sexuality in revolutionary Egypt,’ said. “Rather, they denounce the credibility of the government.”

Egypt strictly monitors online social media activity to analyze posts that go against traditional Egyptian values, and many websites have been blocked for state security. Amnesty International reported that in 2018, Egyptian authorities arrested over 113 individuals on charges such as: “satire, tweeting, supporting football clubs, denouncing sexual harassment, editing movies, giving or conducting interviews,” All under the guise of “state security.”

Since the President of Egypt, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, came to power in 2014, hundreds of journalists, activists, and lawyers have been arrested for content they’ve published online. According to the Human Rights Organization, Egyptian authorities have blocked 600 domains since May 2017.

“In Egypt, there is a systematic focus on national security issues that sends a clear message that opposition and dissent will bring chaos and violence,” Zakarriya said. “Egyptian government’s prosecution of female Tiktok influencers is an overt expression of the ongoing discrimination and revenge against women,” she said.

Internet censorship is a recurring theme in the Middle East, as well as other countries. The internet, though prided for its ability to give voice to the global public, is now often used by government authorities in countries like China and Saudi Arabia as a means of influencing foreign politics.

In China, Twitter users faced prosecution as a result of the nation’s high level of online surveillance. Additionally, Turkey has blocked social media apps like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Saudi Arabia in following suit, has monitored social media posts and has been detaining progressive activists for going against the regime. In the latest edition of Freedom on the Net, an annual report published by the independent research organization Freedom House, over half of the 65 countries assessed had declining internet freedoms.

Similar to Saudi Arabia, women’s rights activists in Egypt are being detained by security forces for campaigning for the prosecution of several accused rapists. Egyptian women have been raising their voices in recent weeks, detailing on social media the sexual assaults they say they have endured. A 2013 U.N. report on women showed 99.3 percent of women and girls are subjected to sexual harassment in Egypt.

“Sexual assault/harassment is prevalent in Egypt,” Zakarriya said.  “Egyptian women go through different forms of public sexual violence and harassment. women are harassed in streets, shops, public transportation, schools, workplaces. Women do not report sexual harassment because the judicial and legal systems are biased,” she said.

Social media has played an important role in women’s rights movements in the past, notably in 2018 during the #MeToo movement. The phenomenon–which originated in the United States–expanded across the globe, gaining traction in dozens of other countries. According to a study at the Qatar Computing Research Institute, social media has the capacity to offer better representation for women in regions with large gender inequalities.

The Egyptian Council of Representatives has approved a draft law that would protect victims of sexual violence and encourages the reporting of sexual crimes. Sexual assaults have long gone unpunished in Egypt and a new draft law has the potential for change.

“I think the new draft law regarding sexual harassment victims in Egypt is a good step. Zakarriya, said. “It is a direct declaration of state responsibility and accountability for protecting women,” she said.

Being an International Student During the Pandemic

By Zeynep Yilmaz,

The first half of 2020 has been hectic for many countries because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wuhan, China had its first case in January 2020 and everything started going downhill. However, no one would have thought that the same thing would happen to the U.S. When the U.S. first diagnosed someone with coronavirus in March 2020, a panic started to spread within society. Videos of people shopping like crazy to stock food, masks, hand sanitizers and clorox wipes spread around as fast as the virus on social media.

“I thought I could still stay to finish my first year, then go back when summer started.” said Yen Nguyen, a Vietnamese student studying at Bryn Mawr College who had to decide whether or not she should return back to her country during the initial stages of the outbreak. After her school announced to switch to remote learning until it’s safe to continue in-person classes, all the domestic students started leaving the campus. The only ones who were left on campus, international students, had to decide whether they should go back to their home country, or  stay in the U.S. during that uncertain situation.

Staying on campus might have been the safest option, however, during that time other countries started closing their border for travellers from the States. So, in that case these students were most likely going to accommodate their own housing in the U.S. for the rest of the summer. Also, their visa status didn’t allow them to work out of campus and hence cause financial hardships to their parents. On the other hand, the situation could’ve resolved in a month, and in that case they would have to attend classes asynchronously because of the time difference. Also, they would have to cancel their internship plans for the summer.

“My family was in Vietnam, so I constantly got updates from my mother about the situation – how schools were locked down and everyone was practicing social distancing.” Within a week after the school closure, Yen, along with all the other international students, had to decide whether or not they should leave the U.S. While she was getting updates about how Vietnam was handling the pandemic, the number of cases in the U.S. continued to rise exponentially. Yen’s grandmother was a former nurse and anticipated how bad the outbreak could be. “Every day, she talked to me and gave me a list of groceries and personal hygiene products to buy to protect myself. When the numbers hit about 2,000 cases in the U.S., I still hadn’t decided whether I should go back or not.” When Yen’s grandmother insisted that they are running out of time, she and her other Vietnamese friends booked their flight back to Vietnam. By the time they got back, some students were already infected and they all ended up spending the next two weeks in a quarantine facility.

Yen finished off her freshman year and is currently continuing the first semester of  her sophomore year in Vietnam attending classes remotely. She is hoping to come back to the U.S. during the spring semester. When I asked the importance of the media and how it played a role in her decision she said that “people need to know where to look for the right information”. During that time period, she had a hard time getting reliable information from the media about what to expect and how to behave. She relied on information from her family members and friends who worked in the medical field. While the CDC and the U.S. media reported that masks aren’t necessary, she kept her mask on as much as possible per her grandmother’s advice.

Regarding the pandemic, misinformation in the media created widespread confusion and fear among people. WHO, the World Health Organization, stated that the pandemic was flamed with “a massive infodemic: an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” WHO, also acknowledged that, on top of all the medical research done to combat the virus, the accessibility of accurate information to the general public through the media played a crucial role in this battle against coronavirus. Subsequently, WHO partnered with social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Tiktok, to stop the spread of false information and provide credible resources. Also, they have worked with influencers on Instagram and Youtube to raise awareness of the infodemic and spread the facts about the virus to their followers.

The coronavirus pandemic taught all of us that instead of using the “fast” and “accessible” information we should do in depth research about the credibility of the information.  As from Yen Nguyen’s experience, sometimes decision making with a lot of uncertainties can be hard especially during a pandemic. However, a big part of making the right decision is looking for the accurate information that will lead you to a solution. WHO, eventually,  took precautions against misinformation but the infodemic reminded all of us that we shouldn’t trust everything that we see or read on the internet. For now, stay informed and stay safe.