For many women, Facebook is a platform where they can air their concerns about gender inequality and sexual harassment in a relatively safe environment (comments from angry #HimToo-ers aside). But for women in Egypt, the social media platform is being used as a weapon to oppress and imprison them, WIRED reports.
Mona Mazbouh, a 24-year-old Lebanese woman, was visiting friends in Egypt when she posted a video to her private Facebook account detailing the sexual harassment she had experienced while in Cairo. Within 24 hours, Mazbouh’s post had gone viral, attracting countless death threats, and a month later she was convicted of "deliberately broadcasting false rumours which aim to undermine society and attack religions,” and sentenced to eight years in prison, BUST reports.
Cairo was recently listed by a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll as the “most dangerous megacity in the world for women”, and a 2013 United Nations survey reported that 99 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, with nearly 65 percent of men acknowledging harassing women. However, the Egyptian Government is trying to keep these statistics quiet, with the National Council for Women claiming that just 9.6 percent of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment.
Mazbouh’s case is just one example of how the government is trying to repress sexual harassment protests via social media. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently approved a bill giving the government control of critical websites that may be publishing “false news.” Under the new legislation, just visiting a “flagged” site can warrant an arrest, and social media users with more than 5000 followers are treated as media organisations, and are therefore subject to censorship.
The new laws have been quick to target women sharing their #MeToo stories. For example, Egyptian actress and activist Amal Fathy was arrested in May after she posted a video to Facebook detailing being harassed by a police officer. She was charged with illegally possessing “indecent material” and spreading “fake news,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
This is in stark contrast to the role Facebook played during Egypt’s civil war seven years ago, when the platform provided “a rallying point for the anxieties of the Egyptian generation coming-of-age,” BUST reports.
Early in his presidency, al-Sisi promised to crackdown on sexual harassment in Egypt’s cities, and in 2014, he passed a law making sexual harassment punishable by up to five years in prison. Despite the criminalisation, Al-Jazeera reports many women feel the law is not widely enforced.Support Villainesse