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‘Supporting our sisters’: Montrealers protest imprisonment of Egyptian TikTok women

Click to play video 'Montrealers protest the imprisonment of Egyptian TikTok women' Montrealers protest the imprisonment of Egyptian TikTok women
WATCH: A group of Montreal activists gathered in downtown Montreal on Saturday to demonstrate against the imprisonment of nine women in Egypt since April for 'violating family values' in their TikTok videos posted online. Brittany Henriques reports.

A group of activists gathered in downtown Montreal on Saturday to demonstrate against the imprisonment of nine Egyptian women for videos they posted online.

The women, who have been jailed since April 2020, were arrested for posting videos to the platform TikTok of themselves dancing and singing along to songs.

“I cant believe this is happening,” said organizer Dalia Tawfik who was among the demonstrators asking for the release of the nine women. “I can’t believe that we’re in 2020 and that we have to fight to able to post things that we want to post (online).”

“I was really shocked. This is not a matter for the courts,” said Ehab Lotayef, member of the Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy.

Five of the nine girls have already been sentenced with fines and two years in jail for violating family values.

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Haneen Hossam, Mawada Al-Adham’s and three others who assisted them with their social media have been charged with inciting debauchery and immorality, according to Al-Jazeera news network.

“They have fines up to US $19,000 each. They have to pay (that) on top of the sentence,” said Tawfik.

Protesters said these women have been stripped of their freedom and basic human rights.

READ MORE: Doctors, journalists arrested in Egypt for criticizing country’s coronavirus outbreak

“The government doesn’t want any free expression on any level,” said Lotayef. “They don’t want people to speak (on platforms) that they can’t control.”

“We are here because we have privileges, we have rights, we have freedom of speech — where I can be here today, I can protest,” said Tawfik. “I can say this is not right — lets do something about it, whereas these women don’t have that. They don’t have that voice.”

Some say the government is afraid its people will start to use social media platforms like TikTok to speak out against it.

“Today maybe they’re only talking about dancing or dresses or fashion, but in the future one of them or more might talk about social or political issues,” said Lotayef. “And that’s what freaks them out.”

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Lotayef says Egypt controls all forms of art, but when it comes to social media, they have little to no power. Instead, he says, they insight fear in people that if they follow in these young women’s footsteps, they too could be imprisoned.

Many demonstrators feel the arrests were misogynistic and targeted towards controlling women.

“Imagine that you live in a country where a man can hold a woman’s future in the palm of his hands,” said demonstrator and lawyer Marlene Tawfik.

Marlene, a Canadian-born woman of Egyptian descent, says she feels a sense of guilt when looking at her freedom and privileges.

READ MORE: Egyptian leader el-Sissi expands presidential powers amid coronavirus

“Women are being jailed for doing things that we here in Canada are allowed to do,” she said. “I’ve never been to Egypt and that’s a conscious decision. I don’t feel its safe there.”

According to some, it’s even hypocritical of the Egyptian government to claim the videos go ‘against family morals.’

“The hypocrisy of it all is what really gets to you,” said Lotayef. “When you’re Egyptian, when you know the society and know how many belly dancing videos are out there…”

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Montrealers at the protest are asking Canada to take a stronger stance when it comes to the issues in Egypt.

“Egypt is being treated so delicately by the Canadian government,” said Lotayef. “(We) ask the Canadian government to take strong positions, like they take strong positions regarding Belarus or Ukraine.”

“I feel like no change can happen without a fight and we’re tired of being silent,” Marlene Tawfik said.

–with files from Global News’ Alessia Maratta

Click to play video 'Family of Canadian detained in Egypt speaks out' Family of Canadian detained in Egypt speaks out
Family of Canadian detained in Egypt speaks out