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Cyber bullying Egyptian women: Fighting for expression amidst state negligence

Cyber bullying Egyptian women: Fighting for expression amidst state negligence

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Opinion Women’s Rights

Wednesday 5 April 202305:25 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

الدولة لا تُبالي بهذا الإرهاب... من يحمي المصريات من الكراهية والعنف الإلكتروني؟


What do you do if you wake up to find your personal data and your family's data posted on social media, with death threats and accusations of blasphemy and atheism, just because of a comment you left on a post?

"You malicious ones, you feminists, you secularists, you apostates, plot and scheme, gather, or don't gather, but you will be defeated and you will be gathered in hell." This is one of the latest messages on the "Dashmel" group on the Telegram app, which has more than seven thousand members, and targets girls on social media, and where extremists warn girls from being in feminist groups. It seems that the rise of feminist voices and the presence of women in general on social media has started to upset extremists and make them feel threatened, so they've decided to punish women by stalking, defaming, threatening, exposing their personal information, and sometimes even spreading rumors that they are sex workers, while threatening to kill them.

A 2020 study on cyber violence against women in Egypt reported that Egyptian women are highly exposed to cyber violence. 41.6% of the women participating in the study reported experiencing cyber violence through social media, and the perpetrators were unknown to 92.6% of victims, while the most common forms of threats were receiving sexual images, emails, and derogatory sexual comments.

It started almost two years ago on the Telegram application, when these individuals began to post comments and photos of girls from Facebook that did not please these extremists. They defamed them, and even published their data and their families' data to "discipline" these "corrupt girls".

Online or cyber violence is an extension of sexual violence, and is a means to expel women from any public space

The latest incident of violence against women in Egypt occurred to a first-year university student at Sinai University when a classmate reposted a comment of hers on Facebook that some deemed inappropriate to Islam, and accused her of being an atheist. The "Dashmel" group published her personal information, along with threats of murder: "Don't show her mercy, guys. If you can't slaughter her, make her live in constant fear." The university then announced an urgent investigation into the matter, instead of refusing to publish the girl's information, which extremists wasted no time exploiting.

This incident renewed the question: Who is protecting Egypt's women from escalating hate campaigns and cyber violence against them, and why has the state left this clear terrorism unpunished so far? And why is justice slow if the victim is a woman? This group now even ridicules the act of submitting reports to the country's internet police.

These threats and harassments not only caused panic to the Sinai University student, but also affected many girls whose data was published on the same group. This comes within the context of a rise in violence against women, after a girl named Basant Khaled committed suicide by swallowing a poisonous pill after fake photos of her were published when she refused to go on a date with a young man, while Naira Ashraf was slaughtered in the middle of the street in front of her university. Her killer, who was sentenced to death by the Court of Cassation in February, has received a great deal of sympathy on social media for some unknown reason, and is even admired by the founders of the "Dashmel"group.

The writer Alaa al-Atfawy had previously been subjected to her personal information being published on the Telegram application after being accused of heresy and got death threats, all because she denounced the attack on writer Salman Rushdie. They collected all her private information and that of her family, and contacted them and threatened to kill their daughter, because she wrote a post in which she condemned an attack on a writer.

What do you do if you wake up to find your personal data and your family's data posted on social media, with death threats and accusations of blasphemy and atheism, just because of a comment you left on a post?

Several women's organizations and parties have issued a joint statement, including the Cairo Foundation for Development and Law, New Woman, and the Superwoman Initiative, to demand fair legal action against criminals, while MP Maha Abdel Nasser stated that these groups that threaten girls are no less dangerous than the extremists who threaten the army and police. The Information Technology Crimes Law criminalizes the violation of the sanctity of privacy, or publishing information or news about a person that violates his/her privacy. Article 25 of Law No. 175 of 2018 on combating information technology crimes stipulates that: "Anyone who violates any of the principles or family values in Egyptian society, violates the sanctity of private life, sends multiple electronic messages to a specific person without their consent, provides personal data to a system or website for promoting goods or services without their consent, or publishes information, news, or images that violate the privacy of any person through the information network or any of the information technology means, shall be punished by imprisonment for no less than six months and a fine of no less than fifty thousand Egyptian pounds and not exceeding one hundred thousand Egyptian pounds, or by one of these penalties."

These laws that already exist will not protect women unless there is the will to enforce them and the rapid response from internet police to reports of cyber crime.

Online or cyber violence is an extension of sexual violence, and is a means to expel women from any public space. This danger that women face on a daily basis raises the question: Why hasn't the state not intervened to protect women and arrest these extremists until now, and enforce the laws that already exist on cybercrime, so that we stop seeing a new victim, a new Naira, every day?

 

* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22


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