But this massive viewership stands in stark contrast to Egyptian legislation banning pornography. Article 178 of the Penal Code criminalizes the making and distribution of any materials — including images, illustrations and publications — that could be considered indecent or disruptive to public morality.
A few months ago, a criminal suit was filed against Egyptian actress Entisar after an episode of her televised talk show Nafsana, in which she praised a young man who said he exercises patience and self-control by watching pornography, and confessed to watching erotica herself. The Nasr City Criminal Court has acquitted Entisar of "promoting immorality and depravity," but prosecutors are looking into pursuing an appeal.
"The state is attempting to tighten its grip on society by claiming that society is constantly under moral threat," argues Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights researcher Dalia Abdel Hameed. "A moral panic is created, with threats of social and moral degeneration. This had led to several arrests and lawsuits against homosexuals, against Entisar, against dancers or singers appearing in music video clips — on the grounds of protecting and safeguarding Egypt's morals."
The confluence of this sky-high demand for porn and a state-sponsored moral panic sets the tenor for the porn industry in Egypt, an industry that's as secretive as it is ubiquitous, and fraught with questions of legality and consent.
A homemade industry raises questions of consent
Millions of Egyptians visit porn sites every day, with the international sites XNXX and XVideos among the top 50 viewed nationwide, according to the Alexa internet traffic and analytics server. But while Egypt ranks high in global porn viewership, it does not have a professional erotica industry of its own. But that doesn't mean viewers only watch international high-end productions — locally made sex videos frequently end up being posted on porn sites.
Most of these domestically produced video clips are amateur, homemade productions, typically captured on low-quality cellphone or laptop cameras that are often hidden from view of the women being filmed. Very rarely is there a third party filming the action, and there is never a camera crew involved. The videos are usually pixelated, grainy and shaky, typically shot from the male actor's point of view as he engages in sexual acts while filming at the same time. The video titles frequently claim that the filmed women are prostitutes.
Sayed (not his real name) is an amateur producer of sex films and self-diagnosed porn addict who works in the financial sector. He explains that "numerous honeymoon sex tapes and private, homemade sex videos" end up being leaked by third parties, such as computer repair shops that accidentally find this content in their customers' devices, "and whoever uploads them can give them any title of their choosing."
Sayed says he has recorded over 30 of his own sex videos (which he says are higher resolution than average) with his female partner over the past five years, but has no intention of posting these private files. These videos are based on consent with his partners, according to him, although none of them could be reached for verification. Sayed stores his films in a secure location on an external hard drive, as he fears the recordings could be leaked and shared locally via cellphones using Bluetooth technology, as well as CDs and flash drives or posted on the internet for an international audience. His biggest worry is when he sends his laptop to a computer repair shop.
"I don't want to end up like â€˜Anteel al-Gharbiya'," says Sayed, referring to Mamdouh Hegazy, a middle-aged man from the Gharbiya Governorate who became a local porn star of sorts after his sex videos were stolen from his computer. Some media reports claim that his private porn collection was leaked by an employee of the shop where he had dropped off his computer to update his copy of Microsoft Windows.
When a dozen of his sex videos — filmed with several different women, via hidden cameras in his home — were uploaded onto the net in November 2014, the man quickly earned the honorary nickname "Anteel Hezb al-Nour" (the stud of the Nour Party). The ultra-conservative Salafi Nour Party quickly distanced itself from the amateur filmmaker and denied he was ever a party member.
"Some other sex videos are posted online as acts of revenge by a former lover," Sayed continues, "claiming that the woman involved is a prostitute, when she actually isn't, in order to publicly shame and stigmatize her."
A few months earlier, in 2014 Abdel Fattah al-Saeedi, a karate instructor from Mahalla al-Kubra, earned the similar nickname, "Anteel al-Mahalla," (the stud of Mahalla) when videos of him having sex with several different women, all filmed with a hidden camera in a gym, were posted to the internet. There are conflicting media reports as to how the videos wound up online, but the fact that the cameras were hidden, as expand=1] this video shows, suggests that the partners were not informed of the filming process.
On February 24, 2015, the Mahalla Appeals Court sentenced Saeedi to two years in prison, then on May 31, also sentenced one of the women in the videos to two years, as she was married to another man at the time the video was filmed. Both defendants were convicted of adultery. The woman's husband filed the criminal suit against his wife and Saeedi, allegedly after he found the video in question. He also commenced divorced proceedings.
A senior employee of a youth center near Damanhour City gained notoriety as "Anteel al-Beheira" (the stud of Beheira) when he was identified as the producer of a string of leaked sex videos. He was arrested in July 2014 and later sentenced to three years in prison.
A news video shows security forces interrogating the defendant, who confesses to filming sex videos with five different women. He claimed the women were paid 100 Egyptian pounds, or about $11 at current exchange, per session and consented to being filmed — but several media reports alleged he used his stock of sex videos to blackmail the women into continuing to have sex with him for free.
Screenshot of Arab Sex World homepage, the most popular website for Egyptian pornography
"Anteel al-Beheira" pleads with his interrogators in the news video, arguing that he was "sick," and claiming that his son accidentally contributed to leaking the videos.
Media reports alleged the son took his dad's cellphone to a service shop to purchase some new ringtones. A shop employee then reportedly copied and circulated the sex videos, which were widely shared across Beheira Governorate.
Farah (not her real name), a woman in her early 30s, says she dislikes the violations of privacy and the non-consensual aspects of local sex video production.
"It's all homemade, and sometimes the videos are taken without informing the female or receiving her permission," Farah argues. "We all know that there is no porn production in Egypt."
One of Egypt's most widely viewed sex videos was a 2007 production featuring the renowned belly dancer Dina with her then-husband, businessman Hossam Aboul Fotouh. Dina later appeared on expand=1] a TV talk show in which she tearfully insisted she wasn't aware her husband was filming her during sex.
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Dina asserted that she was filmed with a hidden camera. "No woman would expect to search under the bed or by the closet to make sure her husband hasn't planted a camera here or there," she said. "No woman would expect her husband could harm her in such a way."
Before finding its way onto virtually every major porn server on the internet, Dina and Aboul Fotouh's sex tape was widely circulated on video CDs and flash drives, shared even between young students in schools. With the presence of many of these videos online for free, the locally shared material is not subject to financial transactions.
The women appearing in such videos who are aware they are being filmed frequently request of their camera-wielding partner, "Don't reveal my face," while others cover their faces with their hands or clothes, Sayed explains.
Because it was difficult to get a response from a female actor performing in a sex video, it wasn't possible to confirm whether women typically only believe they are agreeing to be filmed, or have also agreed to allow the videos to be distributed.
Abdel Hameed says that anyone who filmed without their consent has the right to take legal action, especially if the resulting video was made public, but legal action is rarely taken.
"It largely depends on the status of the woman," she explains. "If she's a public figure like Dina for example, she may be more inclined to file a lawsuit. But many, if not most, would seek to avoid such legal actions in order to avoid the associated social stigmatization, or harm to their reputation."
Abdel Hameed points out that "there is an increasing occurrence of the violation of privacy and personal rights â€¦ and the state usually does nothing to halt these blatant violations of privacy."
Local vs global
Egypt's poor-quality sex videos often pale before the more popular professional productions made abroad.
"I'd definitely go with local porn, if it was on par with foreign porn productions," says self-employed artist Samir Amman, who describes himself as "a major porn fan."
Sayed agrees. "If there was Egyptian porn of good quality with actresses who are physically in shape, then I'd prefer to watch them. But this isn't the case. That's why I like to watch professionally made foreign porn."
Awatef (not her real name) also prefers foreign productions as opposed to the domestic variety, saying, "Egyptian men in sex videos are burly, unflattering to watch and rough with their women." Egyptian sex videos "lack creativity," she continues, "while foreign productions invest more on role-playing, costumes, and creating a whole environment."
On the other hand, as opposed to the professional porn industry, sex videos are "very real," Farah says, and that's why she still likes to watch them.
But erotica coming from the region also has its charms for many viewers.
Arab Sex Web is the most popular website for Egyptian pornography, Amman points out. The site compiles erotica from countries around the Arab world, including many videos that appear to be private recordings of solo masturbation performances, heterosexual couples having sex and, to a lesser extent, same-sex acts.
In a few rare exceptions, there are videos filmed by a third party or camera crew, indicating a more public nature to this sort of erotica, or perhaps even a very low-budget, homemade porn that's a step above the purely amateur productions.
Amman explains there are also Western-based porn websites, such as ArabStreetHookers, that falsely cast non-Arab women sex workers from Egypt and other countries from the region. Many of these women are dressed up in hijabs, niqab, belly-dancing outfits, genie costumes and other Orientalized garb as they perform sexual acts.
"Viewers are very curious as to what lies beneath the concealing hijab or niqab," says Amman. He suggests that in cases where porn is falsely promoted as Arab, the target audience may be Arab men, but is more likely Western porn browsers curious to view taboo images of sex from this presumably conservative region.
Why porn is here to stay
Entisar's contentious program intimated that Egyptian youth come to learn about sexuality primarily through pornography, as adequate sex education is lacking in the school system. "Both male and female youth learn little to nothing form their sex-ed. classes," claims Amman. Indeed, pornographic movies in Egypt are also referred to as "aflam thaqafiya" (cultural films).
Education aside, porn and sex videos act sometimes as an alternative to the murkier process of having sex outside marriage.
Sayed says that watching porn and masturbating may be more convenient than having sex.
"Bareeza fil yad walla hawga li had," he jokingly concludes: "Masturbation in hand, there is no need for another."