A Cairo court handed controversial Egyptian dancer and TV star Sama el-Masry a three-year jail sentence on Saturday after finding her guilty of “inciting debauchery and immorality.”
El-Masry is one of a slew of female Egyptian Instagram and TikTok stars caught up in a recent government crackdown and detained on charges of “inciting debauchery and immorality” and “promoting prostitution.”
The 40-year-old belly dancer was first arrested on April 23 after her fellow citizens, including rival TV presenter Reham Saheed, reported a number of “sexually suggestive” videos to police. El-Masry’s initial four-day detention was renewed a number of times in the lead up to her trial, which took place in Cairo’s Economic Misdemeanors Court on June 27.
The judge convicted el-Masry of violating Egyptian society’s morals by posting immoral pictures and videos and sentenced her to three years prison, fined her EGP 300,000 ($18,560), and ordered surveillance against her for three years.
Egypt’s highly conservative society is struggling to cope with the freedom of expression new social media platforms like TikTok permit women, and the government has not shied away from using far-reaching internet censorship laws to lock controversial women up.
“[These laws] condemn people for their behavior that may not conform to imagined social standards for how to be a ‘good citizen’ and a respectful woman,” Egyptian feminist Ghadeer Ahmed said in defense of el-Masry in April.
Conservative lawmaker John Talaat disagrees, saying “there is a huge difference between freedom and debauchery,” in response to el-Masry’s conviction.
Talaat has led the charge against “immoral” influencers like el-Masry and fellow TikTok star
Haneen Hossam, who found herself in hot water for posting videos offering women a way to make money in exchange for creating social media content.
Talaat told the Reuters Thomson Foundation that they are a threat to Egypt’s family values and traditions while engaging in conduct illegal in the North African country.
El-Masry strongly denies the charges and argues the viral content came from a stolen phone and was posted as part of a campaign against her for her political views. In 2015, the outspoken dancer and influential television presenter was convicted for criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood during its short one-year reign.