Street no longer ‘full of laughter’ for Egyptian youth who film sarcastic videos

“The street is full of laughter,” but not anymore for Atfal al-Shawarei (Arabic for "street children") a group of young theatre artists who film sarcastic videos in the streets. Egyptian prosecutors ordered on Saturday the detention of one of the group’s members for four days pending investigation.

The charges include publishing videos that “insult” state institutions and the president.

Under Egyptian law the crime of "insulting the president" carries a penalty of LE30,000 (around US$3,379).

Atfal al-Shawarei member Ezzeddin Khaled Mohamed was arrested in the early hours of Saturday after the group published a video on their Facebook page on Thursday poking fun at the Egyptian ruling authorities and president.

The video has received 12,000 Facebook “likes” and 327,000 views so far.

On their Facebooks site, the group members describe themselves as follows: “We are youth who work at the theatre. We have decided to film our videos in the streets with crazy ideas. You will find us everywhere around you. Even if your day is busy and swamped, the street is full of laughter.”

The video that may have caused Mohamed’s arrest features the group mocking President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his supporters and jokingly asking journalists to “behave” in reference to a row that has raged between the Press Syndicate and the Ministry of Interior in the past weeks.

The syndicate demanded on Wednesday a presidential apology and the dismissal of the interior minister after security forces raided the syndicate’s headquarters and arrested two journalists on Sunday, May 1. The ministry denied using violence or violating the law in its raid on the building, saying that an arrest warrant had been issued for the two journalists over accusations of "inciting protests".

In the past weeks, Sisi has been subjected to an unprecedented wave of criticism, especially amid anger from the journalists' union at the interior ministry — and also after Sisi decided in April to transfer control over two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. Critics have accused Sisi of “selling Egyptian land” in return for Saudi aid and took to the streets in rare protests on April 15 and April 25.

The Egyptian authorities launched a campaign of mass arrests targeting youth who took part in the protests.

Sisi was elected president with a sweeping majority in 2014 after he led a military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 following mass protests against Morsi’s rule. Sisi was the country’s defence minister under Morsi.

Since Morsi was overthrown, Egyptian authorities have launched a crackdown on critics and imposed restrictions on street demonstrations. The U.S.-based watchdog Human Rights Watch says Egypt “remains in a human rights crisis” under Sisi.

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