CAIRO: Human Rights Watch today called on Egypt's government to release from detention four members of a satirical street group who posted video clips on social media that mocked President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and criticized an agreement with Saudi Arabia that would hand control over two strategic Red Sea islands to Riyadh.
Five of the group's six members were detained last month, but one was later released on bail. The sixth member has gone into hiding. The six are accused of using social media networks to undermine Egypt's stability, spreading false news and inciting protests.
"This kind of blanket repression leaves young people with few outlets to express themselves or joke about their daily hardships," Nadim Houry of the New York-based rights advocacy group said in a statement.
"Egypt's youth have been a driving force for change since the 2011 uprising. Upholding human rights and free speech is the best way for el-Sissi to begin to repair the government's relationship with them," he added.
El-Sissi's government has eroded many of the freedoms won by the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak's autocratic regime. It responds to criticism of its human rights record by insisting it must strike a balance between stability and freedoms.
The six-man group, Awlad 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 the 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 el-Sissi. One video was entitled "el-Sissi, my president, made things worse," while another clip mocked his habit of ending speeches with "Long live Egypt!"
An entire clip was devoted to criticizing the government's intention to surrender control of the two islands to Saudi Arabia. A court on Tuesday rejected as "unconstitutional" the Saudi-Egyptian border demarcation accord announced in April and said the islands of Tiran and Sanafir were unquestionably Egyptian.
The government, which is appealing the verdict, insists that signing the agreement was an act of sovereignty that the court had no jurisdiction over.
In thinly veiled criticism of el-Sissi's government, the ruling's citation said the extent to which a government exercises "sovereign" rights reflects its commitment or lack thereof to democratic values.