Even as the state moved to drop charges against Ms. Khamees, prosecutors mandated a three-month rehabilitation program to “reform her” and “correct her concepts.” The prosecutor’s statement conceded that she was a victim, deprived of her parents, who were dead, and “fooled by the fame that she achieved in a virtual environment, especially social media sites that delivered her to the wrong crowd.”
Lobna Darwish, the gender and human rights officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an independent human rights group, applauded the decision to drop the charges but criticized the public prosecutor’s disciplinary tone.
“It’s like saying this woman needs to behave,” she said. “So the question becomes what is moral without establishing that women are free to live as they wish and still have a right to be safe.”
Ms. Khamees’s posts on TikTok, where she uses the handle Menna Abdel Aziz, were standard fare for the medium, with lots of dancing and posing in sexy outfits. For her generation, online at least, this is the new normal.
“What’s different is they’re not hiding, they’re wearing crop tops and dancing in the street,” Ms. Darwish said. “The idea that these women, who are not privileged, could have their own sense of self-worth and freedom drives people crazy. There’s an atmosphere of panic that society is changing.”
In many ways it is, with young women in the vanguard.
There’s Nadine Abdel Hamid, 22, a music technology student at one of Egypt’s elite universities who outed a young man in June who had harassed and blackmailed her for years. The revelation encouraged other women to speak out, producing an avalanche of harrowing testimonies including dozens who said they had been assaulted. The case led to a law protecting the identity of the accuser in sexual assault cases.
There’s Nour Imam, 28, who works as a doula, a woman who assists with childbirth, and is a growing Instagram phenomenon, who has made it her mission to normalize discussion of a woman’s body. One of her latest posts, an illustration of a woman holding up a mirror to her vagina, drove away hundreds of followers. Her response, in another post: “Bye.”