Arrests made after video of Egyptian men bullying South Sudanese teenager stirs anger

Zeinab El-Gundy , Tuesday 19 Nov 2019

The TikTok video of two young men humiliating a schoolboy caused anger when it went viral at the weekend


Security forces arrested three people on Monday after an online video of Egyptians bullying a schoolboy from South Sudan caused public outcry in Egypt.

On Friday, a video originally posted on the TikTok platform showing two young men teasing and humiliating a dark-skinned teenager wearing school uniform went viral on social media.

In the video, the young men mock the teenager and try to remove his backpack, to laughter from a filming onlooker.

The video was picked up by news outlets, causing an outcry, with some users reporting the incident to official bodies such as the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Ministry of Interior and calling for the arrest of the young men.

According to security sources, two of the three men arrested on Monday in connection with the video are university students and the third is a worker.

The arrested men, who are reportedly from the working-class Cairo neighbourhood of Abbasiya, have been referred to the prosecution.

The authorities have yet to release any official information on what charges they are facing.

The boy in the video was named in the press, and is reportedly a fourth grade student at a refugee school in the area.

'Just a prank'

TikTok has become popular in Egypt in recent months, particularly among young people and teens from modest backgrounds, with many uploading clips of homemade “pranks.”

After the bullying video went viral, the uploader Sayed Hassan, who is one of the two young men shown in the clip, defended himself online, claiming that he did not bully or hit "Sudanese people" and that the video was just a prank with his "Sudanese friends."

Hassan also complained online that reporters and social media users were destroying his life.

As of Monday, Hassan’s TikTok account appears to contain a second video showing a different, apparently Sudanese or South Sudanese, young man being subjected to harassment.

In the second video, posted two days ago, Hassan again tries to steal the young man’s backpack.

In an attempt to avoid accountability amid calls for his arrest, Hassan uploaded a video with both of the African men who had appeared in the videos, apologising to them and explaining that they are friends and neighbours and were actually in on the joke.

He has since deleted his Facebook account.

Harassment of African refugees

The viral clip has generated a rare public discussion about the treatment of African refugees in Egypt.

In 2017, a South Sudanese volunteer teacher working with refugee students in Ain Shams was beaten to death by an Egyptian national who used to harass refugees in the area. A criminal court sentenced him to seven years in jail last year.  

Marsil El-Zarik, an activist working with refugees, told Ahram Online that African refugees, especially women and children, are harassed and bullied in working class areas because of their skin colour and the linguistic differences in their spoken Arabic.

Syrian refugees are better integrated into Egyptian society, she said.

"Working with refugees, especially with women, I can tell that harassment and bullying has become a usual thing to them and according to what I see, the families tell their children to take care of themselves, but they do not warn them against dealing with Egyptians," she told Ahram Online.  

"There must be more work on the hosting communities and societies, including Egyptian society, to make it accept the other more openly," she added.

Nevertheless, there have been positive steps by the Egyptian government and NGOs recently, in cooperation with UNHCR; Egypt has begun to work positively on its relations with other African countries, according to Zarif.

"There are ministries like the Ministry of Youth and Sports as well as the NGOs who work with UNHCR on joint projects that would help to integrate the non-Egyptian child refugees with Egyptian childrenthrough camps or activities in schools," she said.

El-Zarif also hinted that Sudanese and South Sudanese people are currently officially treated like Egyptian citizens when it comes to public schools, hospitals and universities.

According to the UNHCR, Sudanese nationals are second in terms of the number of registered refugees in Egypt in 2019, at 45,106, while South Sudanese refugees number 17,197.

Campaigns against bullying 

According to legal experts, there is no specific penalty for bullying in the Egyptian penal code.

In 2018, UNICEF and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood launched a public campaign funded by the European Union to end all types of violence against children, especially bullying.

The "#ImAgainstbullying" campaign aimed to address the problem, which has rarely been discussed publicly.

The campaign launched a hotline (16000) to receive reports of children experiencing bullying.

According to the chairwoman of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, Azza Ashmawy, the hotline received over 13,000 calls in the two weeks after its launch in September 2018.

In statements to media during the launch of the campaign, communication specialist Hala Abu Khatwa stated that 70 percent of students in Egypt suffered from bullying, both inside school and outside it.

A year later, the word for bullying in Egyptian Arabic, attanamor, has become a familiar and widely used term.

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