Thousands of Egyptian activists have taken to social media to protest the government’s censorship and to demand the release of members of an anti-Sisi satirical street group.
The campaigners posted phone-wielding photos of themselves on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag “#Does a mobile phone camera shake you?” on Thursday, with the intention of mocking Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
Egyptian authorities recently arrested four members of the group Awlad Shawarea or “Street Children” — Mohammed Adel, Mohammed Dessouki, Mohammed Yahya and Mohammed Gabr Othman — over videos mocking the current government. They are being held at a police station in Cairo’s suburb of Heliopolis.
Ezzedeen Khaled, a fifth member, was arrested during the weekend and released on bail on Thursday, three days after the court issued his release.
The protesters face charges of inciting terror, protesting on streets, trying to overthrow the government and insulting the institution.
Awlad Shawarea is a street-based art and music movement stirred by the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and powered by anti-radicalism and anti-military youths of Egypt. Sisi has ordered several crackdowns on popular art centers and street art festivals to stomp the movement in recent months.
Since the troupe was arrested, campaigners, artists and journalists have launched an online protest which demands authorities to release the art troupe’s members.
A famous Egyptian satirist, Bassem Youssef, once known as “Egypt’s Jon Stewart,” published a live video on Facebook, challenging the government to release the four members, whose ages range between 19 to 25.
“If you truly are not scared, let these kids go. If you really don’t care, let these kids out. But since they’re still inside, it means that you’re still scared, terrified,” Youssef said.
The detention of the troupe’s members highlights the level of intolerance for free speech in Egypt and signals the next target of the government could be social media networks. Around 16 million Egyptians are on Facebook and other social media and often express their frustration and rally for dissidents and street performers on these platforms.