CAIRO (AP) — Police have arrested four members of a satirical street group that mocked Egypt's president and his supporters in video clips posted online, the latest in an escalating crackdown on dissent that illustrates the government's diminishing tolerance for criticism.
According to Mahmoud Othman, the lawyer for the street performers, the four were arrested late on Monday in Cairo and are facing charges of inciting terror attacks and street protests as well as insulting state institutions. They were remanded in police custody for 15 days pending the completion of the investigation, he told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
A fifth member of the group, 19-year-old Ezzedeen Khaled, faces charges of insulting state institutions and inciting protests, but not terror attacks, according to Othman. A judge ordered his release on Tuesday, three days after his arrest from his Cairo home.
The four arrested Monday are Mohammed Adel, Mohammed Dessouki, Mohammed Yahya and Mohammed Gabr. The lawyer said their ages range between 19 and 25. The sixth member of the group, Mohammed Zein, has not been detained, Othman said.
The six-man group, Awlad el-Shawarea, or "Street Children," has a large social media following. It shoots selfie-style clips on the streets that deal mostly with social and political issues. The group is part of a new, street-based art, music and graffiti movement born out of Egypt's 2011 uprising and fueled by liberal youths opposed to the rule of either Islamists or the military.
Some of the group's recent work has directly mocked President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. One video was entitled "el-Sissi, my president, made things worse" while another clip mocked the president's habit of ending speeches with "Long live Egypt!" and his recent reference to advice by his late mother to "never to covet what belongs to others."
Also recently, the group devoted an entire clip to Egypt's surrender of control over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, mocking the oil-rich kingdom. It also mocked the Egyptian government for seeking to silence those who claim the islands belong to Egypt and defending the decision to surrender the islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba.
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 was a sell-off.
Authorities have been cracking down on activists, journalists and rights lawyers before and after last month's anti-government protests over the islands. The arrests further chipped away at Egypt's image — already hurt by a series of high-profile freedom of expression cases, including the imprisonment of a popular TV presenter who sought to modernize interpretations of Islam and a young novelist for "offending" the public when a literary magazine published sexually explicit excerpts of his latest work.
El-Sissi took office in June 2014, nearly a year after he, as military chief, led the ouster of the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president whose divisive, one-year rule sparked massive street demonstrations calling for his removal. El-Sissi has since overseen the arrest of thousands of Morsi supporters as well as scores of pro-democracy activists who fueled the 2011 uprising against the 29-year rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Under his rule, many freedoms won as a result of the uprising have been eroded and a personality cult around el-Sissi has been built by supporters in the media. The general-turned-politician, however, has been devoting most of his time and energy to the revival of the economy, initiating a series of ambitious mega-projects that are yet to bear fruit for the nation's 90 million people.