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Yasser Khalil
ياسر خليل
Yasser Khalil studied at Cairo University and completed several journalistic training programs, some of which specialized in election coverage and human rights issues. He is currently a freelance journalist.

Egypt's Secret Love of Porn

online porn
A guilty pleasure that has crossed gender lines
Egypt's Secret Love of Porn
Porn may be taboo in Egypt but according to Internet data research, it's the unofficial national pastime.
8/12/2013 | Cairo

“I accidentally found out that my shy female coworker visits a porn website,” said 36-year-old Ahmad, describing an awkward moment he experienced recently. “I was shocked when she phoned me and shouted: 'How dare you, I am a girl of a good upbringing and manners.' At first, I didn't understand her attitude  and asked her to calm down and explain.  She said she received an email with nude pictures. I was astounded and speechless for a moment,” he explained. “I checked my email to make sure that I had not sent such content but I noticed that the concerned email was forwarded to a number of friends, the addresses of whom were attached. I immediately called all the email's recipients who confirmed not having receiving any attached pictures. Afterwards, I called back my colleague and angrily asked her to stop visiting porn websites that send viruses and control her web browser."

Ahmad's coworker was ashamedly silent and they stopped communicating with him for a long period of time.  

“I do the same thing. I visit these websites but only behind closed doors,” Ahmad said. 

Third place

Alexa Internet, Inc., a Californian-based company specialized in providing commercial web traffic data, revealed that Egypt – which has 35,000,000 Internet users out of a total population of 84,000,000 – ranks third after the United States – 317,000,000 people with 250,000,000 Internet users – and India – a population of 1.2 billion with 137,000,000 Internet users – in terms of visiting one of the world's most famous porn websites, which ranks at 13 amongst the top 100 websites visited by Egyptians. Based on the same criteria, the most visited porn website by Americans is ranked 45 while its counterpart is ranked 29 in India. In the same context, popular porn websites visited by Egyptians are ranked 26, 32 and 68 respectively on the same list.

Figures released last month indicated that the most popular porn website in Egypt (ranked 13) is not as popular in America (ranked 133) or in India (ranked 110). This fact may reflect differing taste and a desire to unveil an area which has been buried and tabooed in the Egyptian society and the Arab World in general. This particular website posts unprofessionally recorded porn videos in Arabic and colloquial Egyptian dispelaying explicit sexual acts or foreplay between ordinary young men and women.

Compensating where husbands fail 

While Alexa's report did  not reveal the gender of Internet porn viewers users,  it has become obvious that porn is not only being visited by men. 

'N', a 22-year-old woman, said she likes sexual foreplay scenes, as do  some of her married friends because say they lack that kind of intimacy and attention from their husbands.  These videos fill a void in the missing emotions of their married lives, yet none of the women have ever told their husbands about this.

On the other hand, 32-year-old Wael strongly opposed these websites and criticized their visitors of both sexes as he believes such a practice violates a society's principles and convictions. He emphasized that he never visits these sites. Except, he later confessed,  for the period of six months during which he watched porn for "informative purposes" before getting married.

Porn websites and sexual harassment 

Chatting about porn websites is done in secret and Egyptians, especially men, chat on social media about hot artists and dancers and post revealing pictures. Egyptian website 'Al Shurouk' revealed that 'Safinaz' is the most searched word on Google in Egypt.  Safinaz is a belly dancer of Armenian origin who recently became famous after participating in a number of shows and movies with her steamy performances. Amid this infatuation with porn websites and stars, Egypt witnessed a huge debate after the spread of sexual harassment in the country. Some believe that porn websites are mainly to blame.

Janet Abdel Azim, founder of the Shuft Taharosh movement which strives to combat this phenomenon and raise public awareness of its dangers and causes, drew a line between porn websites and sexual harassment as she believes that visiting porn websites is not the reason behind the spread of this phenomenon. She stressed that many harassers are of young age and do not know anything about websites or the Internet or even how to use a computer.  Twenty percent of Egyptian males over 15 are even illiterate, she added.

Does blocking work?

Many attempts to block porn websites in Egypt ended in failure. In 2009, a judicial decision was issued, obliging the government to block all porn websites and on March 2012, a similar decision was issued,  but both decisions have yet to be implemented, due to technical and financial obstacles.

However, several political streams, members of the media and human rights activists applied pressure on the government in order to bring a halt to the implementation of these decisions, fearing that this could be used as a Trojan horse to impose censorship on the Internet, and eventually affecting political rights and freedom of expression. 

Cyber and community messages demand from time to time the blocking of porn websites, but some believe that blocking and prohibiting porn websites is not the answer and that young people will always find a way to access them.

Sex sold even before the Internet

Before the Internet came to Egypt in the 1980s and early 1990s, the sale of porn magazines and videos in the streets of Cairo was a booming underground business. A single issue of a porn magazine used to cost around 150 Egyptian pounds (US $22),  a  high price at that time,  about one month salary for some state employees and ordinary workers.

In 2000, a motion-picture comedy called 'Film Thaqafi' (an educational movie) became a surprise hit at the Egyptian box office. The movie tells the story of a young man and his friends who get a hold of a porn video, but they need a VCR and a safe place to watch it. Porn movies used to be code named 'educational movies' by young people and in the film as more friends learned about the video they tried to join the original group, but the video is eventually lost and everyone comes up empty-handed.

"We live in a hypocritical society where in public all people disdain, reject and disparage anyone who visits porn websites and demand them to be blocked while in secret millions do visit them,” said Ahmad. 

Image: رسوم: عمرو عكاشة