Thousands of Egyptian citizens have found a clever way to respond to government censorship: by posting cell phone selfies with the confrontational hashtag “Does a mobile phone camera shake you?”
The question is directed at Egyptian authorities, who arrested five members of a satirical troupe Atfal al Shawarea, or Street Children, earlier this week. The group is known for using phone cameras to shoot selfie-style videos that criticize the government.
Atfal al Shawarea’s videos are typically filmed on the streets of Cairo as the troupe’s six members perform a mix of spoken dialogue and song. The group posted a clip earlier this month titled “Sisi my president has brought us down,” ridiculing the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
The satirists are now being investigated for “inciting protests that aim to disrupt peace and security and cause violent crimes against state institutions,” reported Egyptian news website Ahram Online. The BBC says four of the men were held “on suspicion of insulting state institutions and inciting protests,” while another was detained on similar charges.
Members of the satirical group Atfal al Shawarea perform in one of their selfie-style videos.
Since the troupe members were arrested, Egypt’s journalists, artists and activists have launched an online campaign to demand their release and to condemn the government's crackdown on creative dissent.
“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.
Prominent Egyptian actors Khaled Abol Naga and Amr Waked also posted selfies demanding freedom for Atfal al Shawarea.
Egyptian novelist and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif added her voice to the campaign.
Roughly 16 million Egyptians are on Facebook, and social networking platforms have often played a part in local and national politics, most notably during the Jan. 25, 2011 revolution. Egyptian citizens often express their frustration and rally support for artists and dissidents on social media.
The “Free Atfal al Shawarea” hashtag follows an ongoing online and offline campaign condemning the imprisonment of Ahmed Naji, an Egyptian novelist serving a two-year sentence on public indecency charges related to his novel Istikhdam al-Hayat, or Using Life.
If you really don’t care, let these kids out. But since they’re still inside, it means that you’re still scared, terrified. Bassem Youssef, Egyptian satirist
More than 1,200 people were detained in Cairo last month after protests over Sisi’s decision to transfer control of the strategic Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
A recent police raid on the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate headquarters in downtown Cairo and the arrest of two journalists has also angered civil society.
Sisi's regime has also targeted rights defenders and is investigating a handful of human rights groups, among them Human Rights Watch.