A group of young political satirists in Egypt have been arrested for mocking the president

The World

Five political satirists have been arrested in Cairo for making a video poking fun at Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

They’re all members of a group known as the Street Children, which has a big social media presence in Egypt. Now they face charges that they insulted state institutions and incited protests.

According to Karl Sharro, a Lebanese satirist and Middle East commentator, Street Children are typical of a new kind of satire going on in Egypt right now.  

“Because of the absence of any mainstream satire ... there is a huge void in terms of critical voices inside Egypt,” Sharro says.

“Groups like this are very important at the moment. It’s self-made, DIY satire. It’s very informal but it’s propagated very widely on social media. It has a huge audience.”

Some of Street Children’s videos have been viewed more than 100,000 times and, according to Sharro, they are resonating with a cross-section of the Egyptian people.

“They are absolutely in sync with the public mood and sentiment in Egypt,” he says. “There might be people that started out supporting Sisi, but they are seeing this complete erosion of liberties and media platforms.”

The arrests are being seen by some as another example of the government's determination to crack down on dissent in the country.

For Sharro, it is a sign that the Egyptian government is coming under increasing pressure. “I think it shows how weak the authority of the state is. We have seen a very fast transition in Egypt over the past five years. Before that, you could argue that Mubarak’s regime used a softer touch in dealing with dissent.”

“Now it’s almost like in computer games, where you go up one level and it becomes harder. It’s almost like you get a more oppressive state. But it’s one whose authority is eroding very quickly.”  

Living mainly in London, Sharro says that he is able to observe the Arab world safely from the outside, without fear of arrest. But he is aware of the dangers facing groups like Street Children.

“These are real threats,” he says. “The mere fact that the Egyptian state is so threatened by it highlights the precarious conditions these young people are operating in and the risks they are taking in order to carry this burden and responsibility of mocking the authorities and scrutinizing them in a way that the mainstream media is failing to.”