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Egypt’s top religious authority opens TikTok account

Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta has created an account on TikTok to reach a wider and younger generation in a move that is being criticized by many in Egypt.
A man watches a video posted by Egyptian TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam.

CAIRO — In a move that sparked controversy, Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta announced in an Aug. 17 statement its creation of a TikTok account with the aim of rolling out fatwas to a bigger audience.

As of the writing of this article, Dar al-Ifta’s account had amassed more than 11,000 followers. The account published 13 video clips explaining the religion’s opinion on sexual harassment and the killing of animals such as cats and dogs; others explained the meaning of "homeland" and some related to public affairs.

While some deemed Dar al-Ifta’s creation of a TikTok account as keeping pace with modern means to reach young people, others criticized it and said the application was famous for its dancing videos, which go against the morals of Egyptian society.

The page admins were consequently prompted to disable comments on the Tiktok page.

Khaled Omran, secretary of fatwa affairs at Dar al-Ifta, on Aug. 18 told the “Tahrir Hall” program on the Sada Al-Balad channel that social networking sites have a very big impact on the culture and mentality of the public, hence the need to be present on such platforms.

Dar al-Ifta’s announcement to create a TikTok account came in the wake of a parliamentary move to ban the application in Egypt.

Several parliament members had condemned TikTok for promoting ideas that violate social values ​​and broadcast dance videos, which eventually led to the imprisonment of a woman called Hohos Creature on charges of inciting immorality. Haneen Hossam was also arrested on charges of human trafficking and inciting debauchery by employing two girls to broadcast dance videos on TikTok. According to the indictment, Hossam sexually exploited the girls in exchange for sums of money.

Because of incidents like these, TikTok has a bad reputation in Egypt. The parliament’s Communications Committee has discussed many briefing requests to block the application in Egypt, to no avail.

Parliament is expected to approve the so-called e-commerce law during a session to be held in October. It is expected to set a clear definition of the concept of digital identity and the electronic signature technology applications in trade operations via online shopping platforms.

Director of social networking sites for Dar al-Ifta Ahmed Ragab said in a Facebook post on Aug. 19 that the goal behind creating a TikTok account is to confront vulgar thought, as Dar al-Ifta confronts extremism and extremist terrorist thought.

“There were many calls to ban it inside Egypt, but such calls fell on deaf ears, as the application continued to spread and led many Egyptian women to court,” Ragab added.

He said if all institutions and individuals created meaningful content, then TikTok would be a decent war against vulgar thought, as young men and women would be able to choose between two paths instead of only having one vulgar path.

Human rights lawyer Tarek Khater told Al-Monitor over the phone that any party has the right to create accounts on social media platforms.

He stressed that if the sheikhs of Dar al-Ifta provided content condemning others on TikTok, then this behavior would lead to sharp criticism and would lead the public to refrain from visiting the Dar al-Iftaa account.

Khater questioned the ability of Dar al-Ifta sheikhs to create advanced religious content that crowds out the mainstream TikTok content, adding he does not know if Dar al-Ifta sheikhs will be able to create content that is attractive to young men and women who constitute the real audience of the Chinese application.

Human rights researcher at the New Women Foundation Lamia Lotfi told Al-Monitor over the phone that Dar al-Ifta cannot confront what it described as “vulgar content” going against Islam, and the evidence is that Dar al-Ifta has accounts on multiple platforms such as Twitter and Facebook — and this did not prevent people from offering different content.

She said Dar al-Ifta should not be confronting other content, as its role is to spread a different thought and present a correct religious discourse that confronts the vulgar content or the hard-line thought created by the political current of Islam.