How did Egyptian social media seal the fate of the Saad Lamjarred rape case?

How did Egyptian social media seal the fate of the Saad Lamjarred rape case?

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By Amira Ahmed Gamil | Fall 2023

Saad Lamjarred is a 32-year-old Moroccan singer who has been a shining sensation in the Arab music industry for more than a decade. He first entered the public eye after earning second place in the Lebanese talent-show “Superstar” in 2007. More recently, he has been in the global spotlight after his hit single, “Lm3allem”, earned a Guinness World Record in 2015 for being the first music video to have over 1 billion views within 3 months of its release. Ever since then, he has toured all over the MENA region and beyond, with concerts in Dubai, Riyadh, and most importantly to this case-study, Cairo.

However, all of Lamjarred’s glamour was put to a halt when Laura Prioul, a 21-year-old French woman, accused him of raping her in a Parisian hotel in 2016. The victim was allegedly approached by the Moroccan star in a nightclub, where after speaking for a while, he suggested going back to his hotel room on the Champs-Élysées. Prioul initially consented to being kissed by Lamjarred; however, Lamjarred ignored her subsequent request to stop being more intimate, which is when the rape occurred. Lamjarred got arrested for 6 months and eventually paid the bail to get out of prison under electronic monitoring. This was the Moroccan singer’s third involvement in a case regarding harassment, rape or sexual abuse in a third country (the first two occurred in the US and Morocco, respectively).

It is tempting to play down Lamjarred as yet another male public-figure falling from grace due to charges of rape and harassment. In fact, Lamjarrded’s case was exactly what the Arab world needed to discover whether rape apologists are still dominating the sociocultural scene, especially after Egypt’s Me-Too movement came in full swing in 2020. The Egyptian Me-Too movement saw various advancements in women’s rights after similar incidents of rape, sexual abuse and harassment triggered public outcry. Women’s rights and their experiences with discrimination became the most talked-about issue across different Egyptian media at the time. In our particular case, social media platforms channeled and amplified people’s sympathy for Prioul, which increased the publics’ awareness of harassment.

It is worth exploring how the use of social media has catalyzed social changes such as feminist movements in the MENA region. In order to properly analyze this case, we first need to understand the sociological scene in Egypt at the time. According to a 2013 UN Women study, 99.3% of Egyptian women experienced a form of harassment at least once, leading to a buildup of rage from gender-equality activists and victims of harassment. In 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions and quarantine requirements, social media platforms were the main outlets for the Egyptian youth and ignited Egypt’s first modern feminist wave. It all started when Sabah Khodir, a poet and women’s rights Activist, decided to dedicate her personal account to exposing a college student accused of harassing and blackmailing hundreds of women. This was followed by the creation of Assault Police, an online platform dedicated to exposing Egyptian men accused of harassment. This encouraged more and more women to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. It provided resources for reporting cases of harassment, legal actions women can take, and other necessary tools to combat harassment. Soon enough, Sabah Khodir was joined by Zeina Amr, founder of CatCallsofCairo, an online platform raising awareness against sexual harassment in Egypt, as well as activist Malak Boghdadi, who constantly posted updates on harassment cases on her personal account, which have garnered over 300,000 followers on Instagram. SpeakUp, a non-governmental feminist organization that supports victims of all sorts of abuse, became a key player in such campaigns as well. They provided female victims with free legal and psychological support and assisted them with assembling evidence that would verify their claims.

Their call for women’s rights attracted the attention and support of Al Azhar Al Sharif, Egypt’s National Council of Women, and numerous public figures ranging from celebrities to media personalities. After successfully pushing for the imprisonment of the college student, feminist activists exposed another mass gang rape that allegedly occurred back in 2014. This case specifically became the steppingstone that strengthened the credibility of the above-mentioned feminism activists, as it led to changes in the Egyptian Parliament’s criminal procedure law and a nine-month investigation by Interpol. Together, these outspoken women succeeded in changing the narrative and destroyed the taboo regarding discussing sexual harassment in Egypt, even when it implicates public figures and socialites. By 2020, Saad Lamjarred has become one of the most well-known public-figures to be exposed by online campaigns.

Netizens have lambasted Lamjarred as soon as the allegations came out. However, it wasn’t until 2020 that the anti-Lamjarred campaign clearly came to life. After the allegations, Cairo Show theater faced online backlash after announcing that Lamjarred will be performing there in December; people voiced their disapproval with a hashtag titled “We Don’t Want Saad Lamjarred in Egypt”. The hashtag started being heavily circulated on Instagram and Twitter and trended in Egypt for multiple weeks. Shortly after the online campaign, Cairo Show theater removed all Lamjarred-related announcements posted on their social media, and the tickets could no longer be found on Egypt’s ticket-purchasing platform. Social media’s role didn’t end there, as it played an important role again in 2021. Triggered by an announcement that Lamjarred will be hosted by actor Amir Karara on ONTV channel, people took to Instagram and Twitter using the same hashtag to stop the episode from being aired. Once again, the hosting channel did not post any announcements that the episode is cancelled. Instead, they simply removed the earlier announcement from their social media accounts and said that it is postponed until further notice. The trending-hashtag made a return once more in 2022, when Taj Mahal Sharm, a nightclub in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh, announced that Lamjarred will be performing there in a few days. Speak Up and Egyptian feminists not only made the hashtag trending again, but they also gave the club low ratings on Google Reviews, used the hashtag in the club’s comments and spammed their inbox asking for the show to be cancelled. Despite the campaigns launched by such feminists, Egypt’s Union for Music Professions issued a permit to allow Lamjarred to perform in Sharm El Sheikh, and the performance took place normally.

Whether or not such campaigns succeeded in drawing Lamjarred away from Egypt, it is worth exploring how the evolution of the internet and social networking websites has allowed people to unite and break down societal barriers like never before. Despite the existence of different media channels and communication platforms, social media is arguably the most efficient when it comes to catalyzing societal change in Egypt. Thanks to social media’s anonymity, victims of rape and harassment were able to speak up and come forward with their experiences, which helped feminist campaigns to gain traction. For example, according to Statista, 49% of Asian Pacific anonymous social media users go anonymous in order to exercise their freedom of speech. This allowed women who, once felt restricted by Egyptian social norms, to now openly share their experiences without feeling ashamed. Moreover, the anonymity feature of social media has inspired amendments to Egyptian laws, where the Egyptian Parliament now emphasizes confidentiality of the names and any data of victims of harassment who report such incidents. Following this new legal amendment, the National Council for Women encouraged victims to reach out to them in complete anonymity, which has led to over 400 women submitting complains regarding harassment, rape, and sexual abuse.

The activism of key opinion leaders also contributed to the campaign, as these feminist leaders managed to put such a controversial topic in the spotlight and encourage everyone to protest Lamjarred’s presence in Egypt. Their achievement is explained by the two-step-flow theory of mass communication, where in this case, feminist activists were opinion leaders who delivered an important message to the public, and the public immediately followed their message, due to the high regard they held these activists with. In other words, the public did not passively consume content on social media; instead, they were selective of whom they followed and paid particular attention to established activists. That the campaign against Lamjarred has abided by the most powerful mass communication theories is further proof of how strong the message is, as it fits the criteria that is needed for a message to be widely communicated to an audience as large as the Egyptian population.

To conclude, social media’s role in the Egyptian Me Too movement will leave an indelible mark in the history of social change and women’s rights. It remains an unparalleled campaign that exposed a multinational artist and spoke up about female harassment, a topic on which Egypt has remained silent for decades. The changes it brought about shows that the power of social media transcends the digital world and can facilitate changes in the real world. It is also solid proof of the importance of social activists who could galvanize their constituents and unite everyone under the same cause. Social media became an archive of important moments in history such as this one, where features such as hashtags, reposts and comments became integral aspects that can lead to change on legal and sociological levels. Given the increasing digitalization of our society, it is all the more important to acknowledge the power of social media in aiding social movements like Me Too, both in Egypt and beyond.