Op-Ed: Online Abuse in Egypt: How Can We End This “Everyday Terrorism”?

Op-Ed: Online Abuse in Egypt: How Can We End This “Everyday Terrorism”?
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Published August 8th, 2017 - 12:01 GMT via SyndiGate.info

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Online cyber attacks have become all too common in Egypt in recent times and amount to the everyday terrorism of those who dare to speak out or behave differently - Shutterstock.
Online cyber attacks have become all too common in Egypt in recent times and amount to the everyday terrorism of those who dare to speak out or behave differently - Shutterstock.
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In recent days, Egyptian media outlets reported on the fact that a brave woman managed to put the man who sexually harassed her behind bars. The tok-tok driver was sentenced to five years in prison for the attack in which he sexually assaulted Hind Abdel Sattar on a street in the Egyptian capital.

Many praised the survivor for her bravery after she snapped a photo of his licence plate and identified the man to police. Last week, justice was served and the man will now spend the next 5 years contemplating his crimes from inside an Egyptian prison cell. Many women saw the verdict as a rare victory in a country where sexual harassment and assault still occurs on a daily basis.

However, not everybody was pleased with the result and Abdel Sattar began receiving a stream of vile abuse and threats online through her social media accounts while anonymous cowards plastered the comment pages of local media sites with similarly disgusting comments about the woman.

Despite the woman’s repeated posts about the vile online abuse and Adib’s patronising comments, authorities have turned a blind eye and Abdel Sattar has since quit social media.

Sadly, Abdel Sattar isn’t the only woman to fall victim of online trolls in recent days. Swimmer Farida Osman - the first to win a medal for Egypt at the FINA Swimming World Championships also found herself on the receiving end of abuse from online trolls in the wake of her historic win. Once more, no action has been taken by the authorities in Cairo.

Online cyber attacks have become all too common in Egypt in recent times and amount to the everyday terrorism of those who dare to speak out or behave differently.

I say ‘everyday terrorism’ because what else should we call threats of physical and sexual violence which cause people to live their lives in fear.

Afterall, they say that not all heroes wear capes but also we must remember that not all terrorists carry guns and that terrorism can also take the form of sickening abuse and threats online.

The government in Cairo has displayed a shocking double standard in ignoring the victims of such attacks - who are quite often women.

It seems that when it comes to online abuse, there is one outcome for the rich and powerful while the poor and powerless are ignored.

For instance, Egypt’s authorities have no issue with arresting and imprisoning those who they deem to have insulted the state, the police, the judiciary or President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in even the most trivial way.

Questioning government policy or decisions on social media can also lead to a lengthy stretch behind bars.

In one case, police imprisoned a youngster named Amr Nohan for super-imposing a pair of cartoon mouse ears on an image of the Egyptian president.

However, a threat to rape or murder a woman will rarely raise an eyebrow from the country’s police.

Egypt has also introduced a widely criticised cybercrime law earlier this year, which allows the state to crackdown on anybody whom it deems to be out of line on the world wide web.

Add to this, the recent block on independent online news outlets including Mada Masr, Daily News Egypt and more than 130 other websites including the Arabic Institute for Human Rights and you could be forgiven for believing that the Egyptian government is more than a little elective when picking its battles online.

While a law targeting sexual harassment online exists in theory, it is rarely enforced in practice and victims of online abuse are often ignored altogether.

The government’s inactivity in preventing online abuse is neglectful at best. However, one might argue that such abuse actually works in favour of the regime as it discourages people from speaking out or disagreeing with the society’s status-quo amid of a backlash from their fellow compatriots online.

A society afraid of judgement from within is easy to oppress and a lack of dissenting voices inhibits any hope of meaningful change.

If Cairo truly cares for its people then the government must begin to use the country’s hardline laws to help ordinary Egyptians on the web rather than simply using legislation as an excuse to silence dissent.

Egypt must set an example for other countries in the region and around the world by using the government’s sweeping powers for good rather than jailing activists and those who speak against the regime.

Some might argue that punishing trolls infringes on freedom of speech. However, anyone living in Egypt knows only too well that such freedoms are sadly no longer a part of everyday life. After all, the government insists that hardline laws are necessary for our protection so it’s about time that they use legislation to protect the public rather than covering their own backsides.

This hypocrisy must end and the trolls targeting Hind Abdel Sattar and others should not be allowed to do so freely in a country where cracking a joke or drawing a cartoon can easily land you in jail.

By Conor Sheils 

© 2000 - 2017 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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