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Egypt’s “Tik Tok” … A Virtual Space Punishing Girls

Reed Matar
Egyptian Journalist
May 26, 2020
Menna Abdel-Aziz’s circulating video was a shocking event that gave us a reality check and placed us in the face of a revolting scene. The scene confirms to women that even if they were to walk away from the public sphere into the virtual one, they will still get dragged out of that space and get violated on a daily basis. It pushes the unfortunate narrative that they will continue to be carrying their beautiful bodies around like a burden, like Sisyphus’s boulder, on their backs.

“Oh Eid, you have returned, under what circumstances?”, the prospects for answering this old Arab proverb may have been less bleak if we had been dealing with it one day before Eid Al-Fitr in Egypt, had it not been for the horrifying occurrence surrounding Menna Abdel-Aziz, a young girl who would frequently use “Tik Tok”, who was raped and beaten in videos that were published via social media.

One day earlier, we had been naively praising the Coronavirus, saying “thanks to the Coronavirus, there won’t be any more sexual assault incidents in Egypt during Eid, or at the very least the rates will decrease. This isn’t due to the virus contributing to reforming the way women are treated, their bodies respected, or their privacy preserved, but rather because it had locked us all at home, depriving the harassers of their ritual of abusing women’s bodies in the busy streets during Eid.”

Menna Abdel-Aziz’s circulating video was a shocking event that gave us a reality check and placed us in the face of a revolting scene. The scene confirms to women that even if they were to walk away from the public sphere into the virtual one, they will still get dragged out of that space and get violated on a daily basis. It pushes the unfortunate narrative that they will continue to be carrying their beautiful bodies around like a burden, like Sisyphus’s boulder, on their backs. Except this boulder will resemble a corpse, covered in bruises and abrasions.

On the eve of Eid Al-Fitr, Menna Abdel-Aziz, 17, began streaming a live video on Facebook, where she asked her followers to gather and watch her video as if she had been standing in the street screaming at passers-by asking them to “please watch, I want my case to be a matter of public record, please think of me as your sister”. At the beginning of the stream, Menna did not direct the camera towards her face. Two minutes or less later, she angled the camera to her face showing her eyes that could barely open due to severe swelling, her mouth faltering and repeating the phrases “I am an orphan and Mazen raped me”. Menna kept repeating the word “raped” as if she was getting rid of metaphorical shackles cuffing her arms, and brushing off all the phrases describing what had happened to her in manners of euphemism and equivocation. If the scene of her live stream were to be embodied in a TV drama in it’s true form, they would most certainly have been accompanied with a +18 notice. But Menna has not even reached the age of 18 to avoid watching similar acting scenes, instead, she lived them and experienced their cruelty, when she had just been a kid enjoying the popular app of “Tik Tok”.

Menna Abdel Aziz aimed her body, like a weapon, towards us, towards the “brothers and sisters” and the “big family” whose support she had aspired to get. She thought that the embracing of her body would be painful, that her body would feel like sharp nails, but we are all required to experience this collective pain, and embark on the journey to recover all at once, conjoined and united.

Menna Abdel-Aziz was severely attacked, because people thought she “deserved” to be raped since her videos on “Tik Tok” were too “daring and bizarre for our society”.

However, the brothers, sisters, and the big family continued to violate her. The embracing society that Menna imagined was not able to control itself or embrace anyone anymore. When members of that society tried to stand up for anyone, they’d stumble over their own rulings. Even if they’d looked Menna in the face, she was scared she’d find in them the face of her rapist.

Menna Abdel-Aziz was severely attacked, because people thought she “deserved” to be raped since her videos on “Tik Tok” were too “daring and bizarre for our society”. That’s when she learned that this community incubator was lacerated. When Menna did receive the support she’d imagined she would receive, she published another video in which she withdrew her statements and announced that she was not raped, disguising the behind-the-scenes compromises she had to accept. After all, society has had enough and it is not ready to deal with the inconvenience of a teenage girl who’s having fun on “Tik Tok”.

Menna Abdel Aziz’s withdrawal from the public sphere and the “Tik Tok” space is the third incident after moral accusations were directed towards two other girls. They’ve even arrested Hanin Hossam and Mawada al-Adham under the pretext of “outrage of modesty”!

In her first video, Menna Abdel-Aziz said that she’s started considering her appearance on “Tik Tok” a “mistake” but that she doesn’t deserve to be raped and bullied. However, the question is: why is a girl’s right to use these websites as a way of expressing themselves without harming others considered a “mistake”, that will force other girls to withdraw from that application when it becomes too horrific?

“Tik Tok” has found an objective space for spreading in Egypt for several reasons, and we don’t need to be considering the societal repression on girls one of the main reasons for its spread. However, societal repression is, unequivocally, the main reason girls can test how agile they are through freely expressing their body language, especially their facial expressions, with comical alternative voices that help them hide their actual voices inside a box of supposed values and morals.

Through “Tik Tok” and the alternative voices, Egyptian girls found out they were able to replace the public sphere with an alternative virtual space that allows them to re-find themselves, but it has become clear that this space is also to be easily restricted to pull girls into the “Harem” narrative once more.

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