Art student and actor Ezz Eddin Khaled, a member of the Atfal al-Shawarea troupe, was arrested from his house in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The 19-year-old is being held for four days while the prosecution’s accusations of publishing videos on the internet insulting state institutions and inciting protests are investigated, according to his lawyer, Mahmoud Othman from the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
“This is not constitutional or legal because it doesn’t respect the right to freedom of expression, which the Constitution not only clearly states but requires the state to protect,” Othman told Mada Masr.
Neither the Culture Ministry, the Actors Syndicate nor Khaled’s university, Ain Shams, has released a statement in his support, Othman added.
Since the start of 2016, the six-member Atfal al-Shawarea (Street Children) troupe has regularly released short videos and built up a following of almost 300,000 on their Facebook page.
Filming on the streets in selfie format, the all-male troupe use their phones to make snappy videos with creative social, cultural and political commentary that have swiftly gone viral.
Their last video, which was released on May 2 and gathered almost 1 million Facebook views, criticized the recent crackdown on the Journalists Syndicate and the protests against transfer of two Red Sea islands off the coast of Egypt to Saudi sovereignty. The video uses classical Arabic in the tone of dubbed foreign cartoons, and ends with the troupe declaring that the revolution continues and saying “Leave!” — the chant used in protests against former presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi.
Their previous video, the title of which translates as “Saudi Arabia: 7,000 Years of Civilization,” retells Egyptian history as if it was in Saudi Arabia. It’s their most viewed video, with more than two million views to date.
While the rest of the group isn’t under direct investigation, Khaled has been questioned about their work, according to Othman.
A post by fellow group member, Mohamed Adel, about Khaled’s arrest was widely shared. “I spoke with the other guys yesterday and while we don’t regret reaching this point, we are afraid of the future. Egypt is really scary. It was not possible that we don’t reach this point. Our life is changing in front of our eyes but Egypt insists on not changing. We know we’re nothings in the larger contexts of events. But the lives of these six nothings these days is being formed, and might end.”
He added that Khaled, who is being held at the Masr al-Gedida Police Station, is the troupe’s youngest member and is diabetic.
Homemade satirical videos in selfie-format have become a trend in Egypt since the 2011 uprising. Although no such video makers have been jailed, there has been a crackdown on freedom of expression in recent months.
In February, cartoonist Islam Gawish was arrested and held overnight on charges of misusing communication networks, while novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji has been in jail since February, serving a two-year term for public indecency in relation to the publication of excerpts from his novel Istakhdem al-Haya (The Use of Life) in Akhbar al-Adab magazine.