YouTube Silent on its Male Stars Who Persecute Egypt's TikTok Girls

As YouTube celebrates Women's History Month, the platform remains silent about its male Egyptian creators who profit from incriminating female social media stars with the Arab state's morality police—putting them at risk of jail—weeks after Newsweek first reported on the men's activities.

For several years, Egyptian authorities have cracked down on female TikTok users over charges such as "debauchery" and "violating family values." At least a dozen women and girls faced arrest and imprisonment over their posts.

Amid global outcry from human rights campaigners, a handful of Egyptian men saw an opportunity for social media clout.

Newsweek found a pocket of verified YouTubers who dedicated videos to "exposing" women and girls on social media for castigation and incarceration, mainly over dancing TikToks. These men's subscriber counts range from hundreds of thousands to over a million.

Many have openly called for the women to be jailed. A few claimed direct involvement by filing reports to Egypt's Public Prosecution office or, in one case, bragging about advising a lawyer whose morality-based complaints are known to have triggered female influencers' arrests.

The creators likely participate in YouTube's Partner Program, which is available in Egypt and would enable them to earn revenue from the platform's advertisers. Some have gained external sponsorships.

The men also received Creator Awards (also known as "Play Buttons"), plaques denoting subscriber count milestones that YouTube says are handed out at the company's discretion.

While it has rewarded creators who make it their mission to push Egyptian women out of the digital space and into jail cells, YouTube has made a point of celebrating Women's History Month throughout March. In one tweet, the company said it is "in awe of the impact women make on the world & on YouTube."

On Monday, March 28 a YouTube spokesperson told Newsweek: "Upon review, we removed 5 videos surfaced by Newsweek for violating our Harassment policy, which prohibits content targeting individuals based on intrinsic attributes, such as their gender, or content that graphically sexualizes or degrades an individual. We're committed to rigorously enforcing our Community Guidelines, and in Q4 of 2021, we removed over 322,000 videos for violating our Harassment policy."

The spokesperson added that the company enforces its Community Guidelines regardless of speaker or location.

YouTube relies on both humans and technology to enforce its policies, with over 20,000 people around the world working to detect, review and remove violating content, the spokesperson said. Among them are individuals who access Arabic-language content.

YouTube did quietly take down one video by Egyptian influencer Karim Alaa for "violating YouTube's policy on harassment and bullying." In the video, Alaa calls for a pair of influencers to be executed by impalement for online videos he deemed indecent.

But in a video that is still up on his channel, Alaa admitted to advising Ashraf Farahat, the lawyer who has lodged numerous complaints against female social media personalities. Farahat confirmed his collaboration with Alaa to Newsweek.

In that same video, Alaa threatened a female social media user that she better "hide," lest she "hang by the butt you are proud of and you expose us to all the time."

Most of the men's videos remain on YouTube and their channels are still active. While it is unclear whether YouTube privately contacted the creators over their content, a couple of male influencers took some of their own videos offline following outreach by Newsweek.

Comedy YouTuber Mahmoud Eldeeb has hidden or removed at least five videos from his channel.

In two of them, he tells female social media stars they deserve rape. Another saw him endorsing sexual harassment against women.

Abdulrahman Khaled, another creator, also made private at least two videos in which he shamed women for their social media presence.

Given the lack of visible penalties, some of the YouTubers carried on highlighting Egyptian women for insults and incitement.

Mo Selva, who launched a YouTube series called "Wholesale Scandals," is one such influencer. One of Selva's recent videos saw him making lewd comments about the bodies of teenage girls on TikTok.

"At this point, people are asking me to stop, stop, stop," Selva said in an early March video. "I will not stop because I'm right and they are wrong and once they stop, we will stop immediately."

"When I download their photos while they are naked and [with] the bad things they do and the words they say, I don't mean to promote their corruption," he continued.

"My intention is to shock you so that you know why my blood is boiling, and so that these naked photos reach decision-makers so they get imprisoned. Or they close their accounts. Or these videos reach their parents so they know what their kids are doing."

Lawyer Reda Eldanbouki, who specializes in women's rights and serves as executive director of the Cairo-based Women's Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, believes YouTube carries blame for facilitating the Egyptian state's pattern of targeting women over their social media posts.

Eldanbouki told Newsweek YouTube exhibits a "double face" in selectively enforcing its own policies on high-profile cases, such as shutting down the channels of R&B singer R. Kelly following his conviction for sex trafficking charges.

"Their policy is the money," he said.

"When they need to take action about COVID or stop the channel of R. Kelly because he is famous, [they do this] to make people think they're really good. But women in Egypt or the Middle East, no one knows them."

Eldanbouki said the male YouTubers knowingly exploit Egypt's cultural conservatism, thus successfully enabling harassment against any given woman to "control her body" and "make her shut her mouth."

"Because YouTube does not take action, these women are in jail now, and they lose their lives and have problems with Egyptian police," he told Newsweek. "So I think one of the big reasons to put these women in jail is YouTube."

While this pocket of Egyptian male influencers continues to thrive virtually uninhibited, the trials of female TikTokers continue.

Haneen Hossam—the 20-year-old social media star who was famously charged with "human trafficking" for promoting an app where users can get paid for broadcasting videos online—is undergoing a re-trial following a 10-year jail sentence in absentia.

According to local media, a verdict is expected to be pronounced at her next hearing on April 18.

Sixteen-year-old TikToker Moka Hegazy, who was hounded by male YouTubers for her videos, is in the process of appealing her one-year prison sentence over charges relating to "immorality." Her hearing was postponed to March 29.

Update 03/29/22, 4:40 a.m ET: This article was updated to include a statement from a YouTube spokesperson.

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While it has rewarded creators who make it their mission to push Egyptian women out of the digital space and into jail cells, YouTube has made a point of celebrating Women's History Month. LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images