Satirists targeted as Egypt arrests street performers
Police have arrested four members of a satirical street performance group that mocked Egypt's president and his supporters in video clips posted online, the latest in an escalating crackdown on dissent that lays bare the government's diminishing tolerance for criticism.
The four were arrested late on Monday in Cairo and are likely to face charges of inciting protests and insulting state institutions.
A fifth member of the group, 19-year-old Ezzedeen Khaled, was detained on Saturday and faces the same charges.
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The four arrested on Monday have been named as Mohammed Adel, Mohammed Dessouki, Mohammed Yahya and Mohammed Gabr. Their lawyer said their ages range between 19 and 25. The sixth member of the group, Mohammed Zein, has not been detained.
The six-man group, Awlad el-Shawarea, or Street Children, has a large social media following. It shoots gonzo-style clips on the streets that deal mostly with social and political issues.
However, their Facebook page was removed on Tuesday and it is yet unknown whether it was voluntary or not.
A recent video was entitled el-Sisi, my president, made things worse - while another clip mocked the president's hallmark speech endings of Long live Egypt! and his recent reference to advice by his late mother to "never to covet what belongs to others".
The group also devoted one video to Egypt's surrender of control over two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, mocking the mostly desert but oil-rich kingdom as lacking in civilisational pedigree.
It also mocked the Egyptian government for seeking to silence those who claim the islands were Egyptian.
News of the transfer of the islands to the Saudis broke during last month's high-profile visit to Cairo by the Saudi monarch, King Salman, who announced a multibillion dollar aid package to Egypt, raising speculation that the deal over the Tiran and Sanafir islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba was a "sell-off".
Authorities have been cracking down on activists, journalists and rights lawyers following anti-government protests last month after the announcement on the islands.
Sisi took office in June 2014, nearly a year after he, as military chief, led the ousting of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president whose divisive, one-year rule sparked massive street demonstrations calling for his removal.
Sisi has since overseen the arrest of thousands of Morsi supporters as well as scores of pro-democracy activists who fuelled the 2011 uprising against the 29-year rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Under his rule, many freedoms won as a result of the 2011 uprising have been eroded and a personality cult around Sisi has been built by supporters in the media.
The general-turned-politician, however, has been devoting much of his time and energy to the revival of the economy, initiating a series of ambitious mega-projects that have yet to bear fruit for the nation's 90 million people.