CAIRO — More Egyptian families of low-income and working‐class backgrounds have discovered video-sharing platforms such as YouTube and TikTok as a means of income. While adhering to stay-at-home guidance to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, amateur content creators have been producing short videos of their daily routines.
In this most populous Arab country, around 32.5% of the population lives in conditions of extreme poverty, according to the statistical institution CAMPAS. Many low-income households have found salvation in video blogs. By using basic and accessible tools — a mobile phone camera and a good internet connection — they have been able to tap into the advertising revenue of video-streaming platforms.
Their virtually zero-budget content has reached millions of views, outperforming much higher quality video content posted by famous musicians, artists, and TV- show presenters in Egypt.
Wafaa El Gawad’s family has one of these countless YouTube channels. In less than a year, the clips broadcast on the vlog — many of them showing the family cooking traditional dishes and buying electronic devices and Eid outfits — have reached 35 million views and climbed YouTube trending list in Egypt.
“I think I cook tasty food for my family, and I feel that a lot of people watching our videos are trying to learn from how we prepare different Egyptian dishes,” blogger Wafaa told Al-Monitor.
The 43-year-old mother made enough cash from these videos to move from her modest flat to a new house in the newly constructed city Al Shorouk this month. “YouTube is, of course, profitable, but a high number of views must be reached every time to make money,” she explained.
YouTube channels can generate $18 per 1,000 ad views and $3-$5 per 1,000 video views. TikTok users are paid in virtual coins from their followers that later can be converted into cash and they can withdraw up to $1,000 a day. This income makes vlogging a profitable business for many families in Egypt, where the minimum wage is 2,000 pounds (around $125) a month.
Wafaa’s son puts in a lot of time and effort finding creative ways to get more views. “He does the whole job; he films us while we talk spontaneously and then shares the video with the people,” she said. She recalled how her son filmed her while she cried tears of joy after moving to their new home. “YouTube has become a record of our best memories,” she said happily.
Another popular YouTube channel in Egypt is the Diary of Hamdi and Wafaa. The two are Egypt’s biggest stars on the platform and boast around 1.74 million subscribers and 329,781,483 views. Like Wafaa’s family, they shoot most of their daily activities and publish the videos on YouTube and Tik Tok. The videos have helped them to move from living with family to buying their own house in less than 24 months.
According to YouTube, Egypt is one of the largest markets for video-sharing in the Arab world. “The MENA region is a growing market, … with 77% watching YouTube every day in Egypt. That’s more than any other platform, even TV,” a recent study by Google, YouTube’s parent company, revealed.
Since last March, in the wake of the global COVID-19 outbreak, Egyptians’ use of YouTube hit new levels, according to Statcounter. So was the case with the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok, which attracted millions of Egyptians. A success that pushed competitors like the Singapore-based Likee to open an office in Egypt and hire a local team to break into this lucrative market.
With the increasing use of these platforms and so many clips going viral, criticism has surged around the way some female users dress in their videos. Amid the ensuing debate on social media and after receiving complaints from some users, the Egyptian authorities started to target and arrest women video bloggers. One of them, Haneen Hosam, was arrested last April along with eight others after publishing videos of herself singing and encouraging other women to take part in video streaming.
Haneen was sentenced to two years in prison for “inciting debauchery” and “violating family values.” Her lawyer, Mahmoud Haidar, told Al-Monitor, “She appeared on her videos wearing a headscarf and clothing covering her entire body.” He added, “She is an amateur video creator. She loves filming and streaming videos for TikTok was a hobby. She never thought it would land her in jail.”
The crackdown on women posting visual content led around 150,000 social media users to sign a petition asking for their release. The document stated that the women were detained because of their low socioeconomic status, saying, “They are being punished and denied their right to own their bodies, to dress freely and to express themselves.”
“The female creators are the ones who pay the highest price,” said Haneen’s lawyer.