Egyptian Women Online: A Significant Imprint

Last modified
Fri, 07/28/2023 - 14:20
Egyptian Women Online 2011 - 2022 - English

Analysis of the Evolution of Women’s Online Discourse 2011 – 2020

Monitoring and Analysis: Sara Alsherif

Review and Editing: Manal Hassan

Translation: Dr. Amal Abd Al-Hadi



In Egypt, some might think that debates on sex, female circumcision, women’s economic and social freedoms, abortion, sexual freedom, and violence against women only appeared after the Internet. It is a misconception, of course, but that is what the Internet has done in a nutshell. It gave people a voice and a shared space. It acted as a magnifying glass reflecting all opinions, at least the majority of opinions, until algorithms stepped in to control how much space each voice occupies online.

But the internet did not only empower women and raise minorities’ issues in the public domain; it also facilitated hate speech, incitement, misogyny, blackmail and cyber-bullying against women, especially with the existence of mechanisms for concealment, disguise and the use of pseudonyms.

The Internet didn’t turn out to be the utopia or the perfect world where an ideal virtual reality could be created making the world a small village as some people imagined. What the internet did was reflect our real life on virtual reality. We had not become a small village, on the contrary, we became conflicting islands sheltering from each other and trying to form alliances and partnerships to enable their voices to dominate cyberspace! It gave each user the freedom to be and say whatever s/he wanted. Yet, matters have evolved in recent years after attempts to restrict the Internet and impose certain policies on social media platforms and the World Wide Web in every geographical area! the possibility of challenging these obstacles is still available, likewise all the tools of inflicting damage are still available. In 2017, on the celebration of the 31st anniversary of the emergence of the Internet, Tim Burns, one of the pioneers of the creation of the Internet, said, “The Web is not working for women and girls”1, due to the increasing waves of hate speech and incitement to violence against women on the Internet.

In Egypt, as elsewhere in the world, the Internet was a gateway to a potentially different reality with unlimited opportunities and development. Yet, like anywhere else, women had to make a double effort to be able to access it, use it, benefit from it, and create mechanisms that enable them to deal with cyber violence against women. Furthermore, women had to deal with many hindrances including the cost of the Internet, the lack of social acceptance of young women using the Internet. This is particularly true the farther away you move from the capital, where some young women are deprived from accessing it under the pretext of protecting them. Such hindrances significantly impacted the representation of women on the Internet. Statistics indicate that women’s representation does not exceed 32% of the population, which is the highest percentage in the Middle East2. In early 2022, the number of women, or those who identify themselves as women, using Facebook in Egypt, did not exceed 36.4% of the population, 34.7% for YouTube, 38.2% for Instagram, 28.3% for LinkedIn, and 12.8% for website Twitter, while their percentage exceeds males in a single application, which is Snapchat, to reach 67.1%3.

One in five women in Egypt believes that the Internet is not suitable for her, even if it seems useful and beneficial for, it might not be acceptable or approved by the family4. A study conducted by the Intel Corporation on a number of Internet female users in Egypt, shows that women’s chances of benefiting from the Internet double if they were using the internet for more than five years. However, the number of female Internet users for more than five years did not exceed 6% of the sample5. Social barriers in Egypt play a major role in how women access and use the Internet to serve their interests. However, not all women face the same obstacles in using the Internet, some might suffer from difficulty in accessing the Internet in their place of residence, or the financial inability to afford the cost of Internet subscription, or from technical illiteracy, and the lack of social acceptance. In addition to technical illiteracy, there is the language barrier hindering the interaction of users with the Internet, especially since the Arabic content on the Internet does not exceed 1% of the Internet content6!

This Study

This study highlights the changes of feminist discourses on the Internet and tracks the differences of these discourses, and to what extent did the internet based initiatives change in their content and scope. The study also seeks to answer several questions; the impact of the Internet on empowering women economically, socially and politically; how did the society in general, and men in particular, reacted virtually and reality, to women’s use of the internet; and the role played by authorities in such empowerment /disempowerment of women and its impact on their social and economic freedoms.

Why ten years?

The timeline for this study starts from 2011 to the end of 2020, reviewing briefly how women have used the Internet during these years, starting from the early victorious moments of the January 25th revolution and transcending the imposed limits, up to 2020 and the endorsement of multiple laws restricting freedom of expression on the Internet, and the Public Prosecution’s supervision on social media and its female users “ to preserve values ​​of the Egyptian family”.

The study tracks a number of initiatives launched and adopted by women during 2011- 2020. The nature of the initiatives launched in the early years of the Egyptian revolution, however, were completely different from initiatives in the following years with regards to shape, content and discourse. In contrast to the political defeat, the feminist discourse got stronger after years of stumbling. Those ten years witnessed many public debates, discussions, harassment and targeting. However, by 2020, the feminist discourse became much stronger, entitled and engaged in a wide number of social and economic issues compared to the early years of the revolution when it was exclusively political.

Research methodology

The study encompasses initiatives launched and adopted by women throughout the ten years. The researcher relied on content analysis of social media (Twitter - Facebook - Instagram), websites and press interviews with founders of these initiatives. In addition, the researcher analyzed the discourse of feminist communities, and the reactions of society, authorities, civil society organizations towards those initiatives).


The studied initiatives: are the initiatives launched or adopted by women and existed on the Internet. It is not feminist initiatives in general, or initiatives addressing women’s issues on the Internet.

Women: All those who call themselves women, or identify themselves as women, or women identified as women by birth.

The Internet in the period from 2011 to 2020

The Ministry of communications’ report, “Measuring Digital Transformation” 2015, illustrates the gender gap in using the internet by males and females 2010-2015. It shows that the percentage of female internet users declined from 45.2% in 20107 to 41.3% in 2011. Despite an increase to 46% in 2012, the ratio decreased again to 43.5% in 2013.

In the following lines we monitor how women used the internet as a tool for resistance and empowerment, to gain more rights and opportunities and as a tool for education and advocacy and to open new horizons and opportunities in the labor markets.


The use of the internet was a critical tool in challenging traditional censorship and gaining new spaces in 2011. The same year witnessed the first successful attempt of the Egyptian regime to totally shut down the internet on January 28th as a way of containing the waves of anger and demonstrations that exploded nationwide and to downsize the digital impact in escalating such demonstrations. However, in that year the number of women users of the internet decreased considerably by 4.1% than the previous year 2021.

Due to the nature of that year, most of the feminist initiatives, directly impacted by the internet, essentially engaged with the heated events in Tahrir Square and most of the Egyptian governorates. The most prominent events monitored and documented by the feminist movements, or where women used the internet as an empowering tool to advance their rights, were linked to the assaults on women in the streets during the political events in Egypt.

Internet exposing Sexual assaults

Although sexual harassment was not a new phenomenon, but it reached a peak in February 2011 and following months. People began to speak about it after “Lara Logan”, CBS correspondent, appeared in a TV program, revealing how she was assaulted on the night of Mubarak’s stepping down8. This was followed by a series of sexual assaults of women by demonstrators, passing-byers, or security forces.

In this context we will focus on three examples where women used technology to place their issues on the public opinion’s agenda and to create pressure to recognize the harm they suffered.

Samira Ibrahim

On the 9th of March 2011, the army troops raided the sit-ins in Tahrir Square at the time. They arrested a number of women and men activists. During that encounter, the arrested young women were assaulted. One of them, Samira Ibrahim, later revealed that she had been exposed to a virginity test by a physician in the military prison.

In cooperation with some digital initiatives and activists, Samira was able to document what she was exposed to9، and filed a lawsuit before the military judiciary against those violations. The supportive digital campaign created pressure that led the military court to investigate Samira’s complaint. The head of the Military Judicial Authority issued a decree banning any media publicity with regards to her case; However, a page was launched on social media10, #supportsamira, challenged the ban.


Harass Map, a voluntary initiative that was established in Egypt by the end of 2010, with the goal of ending societal tolerance to sexual harassment. The Harassment Map Initiative (HMI), began by setting up a hotline to receive reports of sexual harassment against women in Egypt and an interactive map on their website. The Map was continuously updated showing sexual harassment reports received through the hotline from different regions. This allowed them to classify regions according to the intensity of risks to women, and organize action plans to limit the spread of the phenomenon in those regions.

In June 2011, the HMI called for a Tweeting and Blogging Day on the sexual assaults Egyptian women are exposed to, to raise awareness of this phenomenon. Many women of all ages were encouraged, for the first time, to narrate what they face in the Egyptian streets on a daily basis.


A website established by Yasmin El Mehiry and Zeinab Samir12. It was launched on the 10th of June 2011, to be the first Arabic digital platform addressing motherhood pre, post and during pregnancy. Its objective was to provide mothers with a tool to deal with motherhood changes, hardships and challenges

The two founders received many awards and training that enabled them to sustain the project’s continuity and develop it to become a platform for all mothers-to-be. Unlike many websites or specialized platform addressing maternity and Motherhood experiences, “Super Mama”, collaborated with specialists and physicians in different fields to review the content published on the website13.

The website, established and managed by a team of women, had dedicated some sections to highlight the role of fathers and husbands during pregnancy, childbearing and child care; trying to address the concept of fatherhood from a man’s perspective14. Within the first month of launching the website, the number of subscribers exceeded 2000 members, and the average visitor rate reached 20 thousand visitors.

The women’s uprising in the Arab world (intifadat al maraa)


The logo of women’s uprising in the Arab world, an Arabian girl, her black hair is the map of the Arab world

In October 2011, the “women’s uprising in the Arab world”15, a feminist page, was launched on Facebook under the slogan “Together for women enjoying freedom, independence and security in the Arab World”. The facebook page, with more than 11379 users, declared that it is “a free secular space” for constructive dialogue on women’s freedoms and independence in the Arab world, and emphasized its adherence to the International declaration of Human Rights.

The online initiative was co-founded by four women from Egypt (Sally Zohni), Lebanon (Yalda Younes, Diala Haider), and Palestine (Farah Barkawi), and relied entirely on voluntary work. Its solidarity work highlighted the commonalities of Arab women’s sufferings, struggles and challenges. Its diversified work (sharing news, launching and supporting campaigns and initiatives) reflected both political and human rights dimensions based on supporting women against patriarchal systems whether in the family, authority or religious clergy. The initiative called for changing laws that exclude and marginalize women, and for the participation of women in the constitutional making processes in the Arab Spring countries.

The initiative gained wide fame in October 2012, after launching the campaign “I support Women’s Uprising in the Arab World Because…”. The campaign included photos of women and men participants with banners showing the reason for their support. Some of the women participants’ photos outraged many Facebook users, who organized violent and hate speech campaigns with aggressive and negative comments on the initiative’s page. Facebook administration deleted the photo of a young woman participant following complaints reporting it as an “offensive content”. Furthermore, the accounts of some of the page administrators were suspended.

Following the attack on its Facebook page, the initiative launched a counter campaign16 to put pressure on Facebook administration to undo the controversial post’s removal, and to unblock the page’s moderators. That campaign received wide solidarity from various human rights and feminist organizations and initiatives, in addition to individuals of different nationalities and sects, and the participation of a number of influencers and artists. Eventually, the widespread campaign and massive solidarity received compelled the Facebook administration to undo the deletion of the controversial post and restore the page moderator’s authority.

Since 2011, the "women’s uprising in the Arab world" initiative has organized many solidarity campaigns with women in many Arab countries, e.g. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, etc. That support gave it momentum, expansion and a diverse audience at the regional level. For example, in 2013, following a number of horrific incidents of violence and sexual harassment and even rape endured by Egyptian women; the initiative called, through its digital accounts, for a wide solidarity campaign with Egyptian women against assaults they face in public places. The campaign was able to mobilize broad solidarity with Egyptian women from different countries of the world. The popularity it gained, contributed to shedding more light on the level of sexual violence faced by women in the Egyptian street.

The initiative also organized awareness campaigns on legal violence against women in Arab countries, and campaigns to support Saudi women in their right to drive cars, and to support women’s political rights in Lebanon. In all these campaigns, the slogan was “Our issues are many, and our struggle is one”.

تصميمات حملة ”هل تعلمين“ – انتفاضة المرأة في العالم العربي

Sett el Banat (Finest of girls)

During November and December 2011, many clashes erupted between the revolutionaries and the security forces. Most news and stories circulated on the “Mohammed Mahmoud clashes” exposed the security forces’ violence against the demonstrators. Yet, these narratives avoided incidents of sexual assault and rape that women demonstrators were subjected to during those events. Justifications included, “not to distort the Square’s image”, or “fear might deter women from participating in demonstrations and events”. However, several women published, on their social media accounts, testimonies of what they were exposed to while participating in the demonstrations. They were faced with violent attacks and criticism, from both opponents and supporters. The former regime supporters smugly gloated on such attacks.

By December 2011, the assaults became more violent and brutal. Women’s rights and anti-harassment groups organized a series of interventions to protect women, including digital campaigns to expose sexual assaults of women. The most prominent was “Sett el Banat” (Finest of girls), a young woman, who was stripped, dragged and beaten by a number of soldiers during the “Council of Ministers’ events. and Such assaults were documented through photography and videotaping that were published on the internet. They were republished through many digital campaigns, e.g. “A’skr Kathebone” (Army Liars) and many other pages on social media.

At that time, many feminist activists and feminist rights groups organized digital campaigns to denounce, expose and publicize these sexual assaults targeting women demonstrators, attempting to intimidate and bully them from participating in the demonstrations. Many pages on social media called for women’s marches to denounce what happened, particularly following beating and stripping during the “Council’s” events.


According to the Ministry of Communications report, the percentage of women and girls using the Internet in 2012 increased by 5.3%, compared to 2011.

Initiatives against sexual harassment

In 2012, digital campaigns and digital organizing focused mainly on ​​confronting sexual harassment both online and in public places, particularly after a number of women’s organizations and initiatives began to shed light on this phenomenon in 2011.

“Daughters of Egypt are red line”17, an online initiative, was launched in June 2012 to protect the rights, freedoms and dignity of Egyptian women, enable women’s reporting on sexual violence crimes and provide psychological and emotional support to victims/survivors. This initiative used social media pages as a tool for organizing and meeting supporters, providing direct awareness campaigns and training volunteers to enable them to provide protection against harassment in public places

In August 2012, another initiative, “Anti-Harassment Movement18”, was launched through a page on social media, Facebook and Twitter. Its objectives were awareness raising against harassment, launching digital campaigns regarding violence against women, networking volunteers and organizers of protection teams. The training included tools for awareness raising and collective action to address and combat violence against women in public spaces. In addition, they trained “protection teams” on how to function on the streets during events.

The Anti-Harassment page has been diligently publishing stories of survivors of sexual violence, as well as posting content that encourages women to report abuse.

In October 2012, the campaign produced a video to encourage citizens to participate in a demonstration on 4 October to assert women’s rights in the constitution and combat harassment.

Girls’ Revolution

A feminist group, established through social media accounts to outreach to the largest possible segment of women and girls19. The group, founded by Ghadeer Ahmed on January 26, 2012, seeks to stop discrimination against women and defend women and girls’ right to their bodies.

This digital initiative aimed to use technology and the Internet as a means for change and to outreach for women and girls in governorates and villages through raising public debate on feminist and controversial issues that concern women.

Over the past years, the "Girls’ Revolution" initiative had incited a lot of heated debates because of the many controversial issues it raised and the strong, unconventional and courageous views that are not usually raised on social media. A position that led to systematic violent digital campaigns against the group’s founder, targeting her Twitter account.

The “Girls’ Revolution” group addressed violence against women in both the public and private spheres, including sexual harassment in public spaces, domestic violence and female circumcision. It also initiated several discussions on controversial issues, e.g. the veil, women’s control over their bodies, and women’s independence vis-a-vis their families. This stance caused a harsh attack on the page’s editors in most of the comments raised on these topics.

The initiative helped create a space for digital organizing and pressure, and was the first digital space after 2011 that engaged, supported and raised awareness of girls and women from outside Cairo.

“Girls’ Revolution” editors resorted to unconventional methods in addressing debated feminist issues e.g. using satirical “memes” designs, or resorting to digital shaming and naming of a number of men violating women to enhance the accountability process. The initiative, through its Facebook page and Twitter account, tackled many thorny issues such as the right to abortion, marital rape, and the hymen, in addition to discriminatory laws against women.

Campaigns of the “Girls’ Revolution” campaigns included:

  • virginity tests in Egyptian homes ‏#من_الجسد_وإليه (from the body and back to the body),

  • Marital rape: ‏#حقها_اختيارها (her right her choice),

  • the right to abortion,

  • in addition to shaming campaigns of rapists, e.g. ‏#متحرش_الميكروباص (the microbus rapist).

Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment OpAntiSH

In 2012, a year after Mohamed Mahmoud (the street between Ministry of Interior and Tahrir Square) events, clashes were renewed and included violent assaults and mass rape of young women in the square, which was chocking for feminists and human rights groups. A heated debate erupted on whether to announce what happened to women during these events or cover it up “not to defame the Tahrir demonstrators”. However, Yasmine Al-Barmawi, a survivor who was subjected to violent sexual assault in Tahrir Square, came out revealing her brutal experience through social media pages. Her testimony was then recorded in written and video format20.

In the wake of those events, “OPANTISH” or “Op Against Sexual Harassment/Assault”. A group of volunteers and many associations and initiatives worked jointly on rapid interventions to stop mass sexual harassment and assault during demonstrations and sit-ins.

OPANTISH used social media21, Facebook and Twitter22, to provide timely information about dangerous hotspots in which sexual assault incidents occur during gatherings and events, needed assistance to those requesting medical, legal or financial support to rescue victims and provide temporary safe shelters.

The initiative achieved credibility and wide reputation because of its members’ dedicated efforts to provide the necessary protection for women participating in the events. It used different digital platforms to raise awareness with regards to sexual harassment and systemic and organized assaults on women demonstrators. Phone numbers of OPANTISH were published on social media before events for reporting sexual harassment hotspots or call for help

By the end of 2013, OPANTISH announced, through its accounts and website, it will suspend its intervention groups activities during demonstrations and events due to increased pressures on its members that mounted to arresting some of them. However, the initiative maintained its virtual presence through social media, especially its Facebook page. It continued to support efforts to eliminate harassment in solidarity with the struggle of women to reduce sexual violence in the Egyptian street.

OPANTISH used Twitter to organize volunteers, providing hotline numbers to help stop assaults, and collect financial support to purchase medical needs for survivors of sexual violence.


In 2013, the percentage of women Internet users decreased, 43.5% compared to 46% in 2012. According to the Ministry of Communications’ report, the percentages of women Internet users in that year, were 42%, 15.9% and 27.3% in the Delta, Cairo and Upper Egypt governorates successively.

This percentage shows an increase in the number of Internet users in the Delta and Upper Egypt compared to Cairo and Alexandria, reflecting a state of decentralization away from the major capitals in the use of the Internet and explaining the increased number of digital initiatives launched from the Delta and Upper Egypt governorates. This might be explained by the limited opportunities for women in those governorates to participate freely in public events and occasions taking place on the ground. It also reflects the transformation of the Internet into a means to compensate for the lack of physical and actual participation in the streets and public places. On the other hand, the percentage of women Internet users was comparatively low (6%) in the Suez and Sinai governorates due to the continuous interruption of the Internet in North Sinai, in addition to the conservative nature of the two governorates, which may impose restrictions on how women use the Internet.

Confessions of a Married Woman

The “Confessions of a Married Woman” initiative is a women-only closed group. It is almost the first of its kind in Arabic on social media in Egypt. Despite the name, it is not exclusive to married women; single and divorced women can join it.

After getting married Zainab Al-Ashry began to discover all the silenced issues about marriage. When she realized that she was not the only one suffering from these problems, she created a Facebook page with a group of friends, so that women can exchange psychological, and sometimes even financial support. They adopted a policy of anonymity when publishing confessions or problems, so that participants can discuss their problems freely, without embarrassment or fear.

The “Confessions of a Married Woman” group was the first digital space enabling Egyptian women to address sexual and marital problems freely without fear of being judged. This revealed many shocking facts with regards to marital relations and problems. The group began as a space for married women to share confessions about the marriage institution, however, by time and with the increasing membership it turned into a safe space for women to freely share their worries and concerns regardless of their age or social status. Sex related domestic violence and financial problems or confessions represent the overwhelming majority of what was published and debated on the group23, which currently has a membership of over 188.6 thousands women.

To sustain the group’s cohesion and to keep that safe space for women to be able to speak freely, the group adopted some rules within their publishing policy. They banned discussions related to religion and politics, in addition to prohibiting any comments entailing abuse or bullying of any member.

The popularity of the group and the nature of the information circulated, even being anonymous, provoked some men who accused the group of inciting women against their husbands or families and pushing them to rebel against what they were accustomed to24.

Correct it in Your Mind

In November 2013, with the anniversary of the assaults on women, a number of human rights and feminist organizations launched a digital campaign targeting men titled “correct it in your mind”25. The campaign aimed to challenge negative stereotypes and misconceptions associated with sexual violence against women in Egypt. It used several tools, most notably widespread dissemination of satirical cartoons through social media, and the hashtag ⁨#صلحهاxدماغك⁩ (correct it in your mind) to reach out to its target audience. In addition, it used social media to call for a number of live events such as seminars, storytelling sessions, and awareness campaigns in 10 governorates. Many organizations, such as the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Harass Map, and Nazra for Feminist Studies, OPANTSH, Girls’ Revolution, Woman uprising in the Arab world and other initiatives concerned with confronting harassment and sexual violence against women participated in the campaign. The campaign received great media coverage on a number of digital media platforms.

Compared to previous campaigns, the “correct it in your mind” campaign was different and new. Instead of the usual approach targeting women and community, that campaign addressed its messages to men for the first time. Its discourse was clear-cut, direct and simple, using various daily life situations in an attempt to change and modify behavior to confront violence against women in the public domain.


Examples of Cartoons used during the “correct it in your mind” campaign.

The campaign also worked hard to raise awareness of the ambiguities and shortcomings of the Egyptian laws on violence against women and the prejudiced texts defining the types of sexual violence against women, resulting ultimately to pathetic judicial verdicts for these crimes26.