Egyptian comedy group's final middle finger up to their president
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In May 2016, the members of the Egyptian comedy troupe “The Street Kids” were arrested because of their viral videos mocking Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Charged with “inciting terrorism”, they were imprisoned for several months. And to everyone’s surprise, the comedians have just released a new video. But this one might just be their last.
The six young comedians who make up the "Atfal al-Shawarea" (or “Street Kids”) comedy troupe rose to prominence in Egypt in early 2016 with a series of hilarious videos. The comedians film themselves, selfie-style, singing reworked versions of Egyptian folk songs. Their new lyrics criticise the Egyptian regime and members of President al-Sisi’s party. The “Street Kids” videos quickly spread across Egyptian social media and it didn’t take long for them to catch the attention of Egyptian authorities, who were not laughing.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Egyptian comedians critical of Sisi arrested for ‘inciting terrorism’
In May 2016, a prosecutor in Cairo put a stop to the Street Kids’ fun. The six actors were charged with “inciting terrorism.” Only the youngest member of the group — who was only 19 at the time and therefore still a legal minor — was spared. [In Egypt, the legal age is 21]. The five other comedians were sent to prison. They were finally released on parole four months later, at the end of August.
Since their release, the Street Kids have kept quiet. However, on January 10, they released a video announcing their comeback. While their original Facebook account was deleted in May 2016, they launched a new page called “Brain and liver,” so-called after a popular street food in Cairo.
In this new video, the comedians have created a new take on a popular song well-known in low-income neighbourhoods in Cairo. The song is known for its absurd rhymes and puns.
The lyrics include: “Abou Trika [a famous former footballer], star of Egypt ", "May God help us", "Push, push" and "Run, run". The comedians jump around as they film, shaking the camera, thus creating the hand-held effect that they have become known for.
One of the actors then explains that this reunion video marks one year since the troupe was founded, and announces that they will soon publish more new videos of “popular songs”, which could indicate new parodies.
The announcement was met with a lot of excitement on social media.
However, on Wednesday, there was another turn of events. The actors announced that they would not be making any new material in a mysterious public statement where they accused "certain people" of "using them".
The statement said: "We would like to return and share our artistic ideas and our jokes with you. But certain people and certain networks want to use us and our creations to support their ideas… We refuse this outright. We won’t submit to anyone.”
“We don’t want to be a puppet in the hands of political movements”
Mohammed Ebn Abel, a member of the group, spoke with France 24.
After we published the video, opposition political movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Organisation of Socialist Revolutionaries [a far-left group], posted our video on their social media accounts and started claiming that we supported their cause.
We were surprised and also really annoyed. We refuse to be used for political ends. We don’t want to be a puppet in the hands of political movements. Since the beginning, our only interest has been to talk about the problems experienced by common people, people living in poor neighbourhoods, even if that means that we have sometimes spoken about political topics.
Because they are still on parole, the six comedians need to tread carefully. Mohamed Elsoury, Mohamed Yehia, Mido Gabr, Mostapha Zien, Mohamed Ebn Adel and Ezz el-Din Khaled were prosecuted not just for “incitement to terrorism” but also “incitement to protest” and “circulating online a video containing offensive language about state institutions”.
In Amnesty International's most recent report on Egypt, the organisation said that the human rights situation in the country deteriorated in 2015 and 2016, principally because of the establishment of arbitrary restrictions on liberty of expression, gathering and peaceful assembly — all under the guise of 'fighting against terrorism'.
In April 2016, more than 1,200 people were arrested for having protested against al-Sisi’s decision to transfer the ownership of two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. Several human rights advocates were also arrested and accused of acts of terrorism and "calling for protests to overthrow the regime, distributing flyers to protest, affiliation to a banned organisation, and promoting false news.”
Shortly before their arrest last year, the “Street Kids” had published a video in which they used humour to criticise the Egyptian government's move over the islands. This video, which was seen more than 2 million times, is what unleashed the anger of the Egyptian authorities.