Egyptian model Salma El-Shimy’s photoshoot at Saqqara in Giza (photo by Hossam Muhammed/Facebook)

Egyptian model and influencer Salma El-Shimy was arrested on November 30 after posing for a photoshoot in Saqqara, an archaeological site in the city of Giza. Officials at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities charged El-Shimy and her photographer, Hossam Muhammed, of taking the photos at the site without a permit and deemed the model’s outfit — a short white dress with a pharaonic beaded belt and neckpiece — as “inappropriate.”

Egyptian law stipulates that anyone who wants to take photos or videos for commercial purposes at one of the country’s archaeological sites must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.  

In an interview with CBS, Muhammed claimed that he and El-Shimy had reached an “agreement” with the site’s staff, who allowed them to take photos near the Pyramid of Djoser for 15 minutes.

Officials told the BBC that El-Shimy and her photographers paid staffers on-site 1,500LE (~$96) to conduct the photo session. Sabry Farag, director of the Saqqara antiquities site, confirmed to CBS that two of the ministry’s employees and four members of the security staff who were involved in the alleged agreement with Muhammed and El-Shimy were summoned for an investigation. Farag denied earlier reports that those workers were also arrested.

For the photoshoot, El-Shimy cheekily referred to herself as Queen “Malban-titi,” a name combining the Arabic word for Turkish delight sweets (“Malban”) and the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. She also referenced Cleopatra in several posts on her social media platforms.

The photoshoot went quickly viral on social media, splitting opinions between supportive fans, who defended the model’s right to dress up as she pleases, and critics who accused the model of offending Egyptian heritage.

Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered the release of El-Shimy and Muhammed on December 1 on a bail of 500LE (~$32) each. A full investigation is forthcoming. The two are facing charges of photography without a permit but no charges related to indecency, according to the BBC.

But that’s not the end of El-Shimy’s travails. The model is also facing a lawsuit, filed by a private lawyer, who is accusing her of “the distortion of civilization and insulting the great Pharaonic history.” A member of Egypt’s parliament has also called for imposing the “severest punishments” on the popular influencer. 

El-Shimy’s arrest is part of an escalating crackdown on social media influencers, particularly women, in Egypt. In November, two TikTok stars — Haneen Hossam and Mawada el-Adham — were arrested on charges of “violating family values,” and each sentenced to two years in prison and hefty fines. Since April, Egyptian authorities have arrested at least nine young women who are popular on TikTok, according to the New York Times.

Saqqara, an ancient necropolis, was in the news recently after archaeologists unearthed about 100 intact coffins containing mummified bodies. Meanwhile, hundreds of fans on social media have already crowned El-Shimy as the modern-day “Queen of Egypt.”  

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