Egyptian YouTube star held for videos criticizing president
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Egyptian YouTube star held for videos criticizing president

Online comedian Shady Sorour, 24, arrested after returning from US; he is to be tried for allegedly inciting protests to overthrow the government

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi speaks at the "G20 Investment Summit - German Business and the CwA Countries 2019" on the sidelines of a Compact with Africa (CwA) in Berlin, Germany on Nov. 19, 2019. (John MacDougall/Pool via AP)
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi speaks at the "G20 Investment Summit - German Business and the CwA Countries 2019" on the sidelines of a Compact with Africa (CwA) in Berlin, Germany on Nov. 19, 2019. (John MacDougall/Pool via AP)

Egyptian authorities have arrested an online comedian who criticized President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in a YouTube video, according to a rights lawyer and local media.

Shady Sorour was arrested at Cairo International Airport earlier this week upon his arrival from the United States. Local Arabic-language newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that he would be tried together with a number of other defendants. Prosecutors allege that they incited protests to overthrow the government.

Mohamed Lotfy, executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, said Friday that Sorour had declined legal counsel during his first round of questioning. Lofti’s group has been active in defending those arrested in an ongoing government crackdown.

Sorour had been living abroad since 2016.

In recent years the 24-year-old, who is also an actor, has gained fame on YouTube with satirical videos that attracted millions of viewers. Last fall, he posted a video titled “Enough el-Sissi” in which he endorsed calls made by the self-exiled Egyptian businessman Mohamed Ali to rise against the president. In the video, Sorour plays both the roles of a father and a young man arguing over the state of the country.

Shady Sorour (Screencapture/YouTube)

Ali, a contractor who said he had worked with the military for years, has accused Sissi of misusing public funds to build presidential palaces. After his calls to protest, hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets in late September in a rare demonstration.

Since then, authorities have arrested thousands of people, and some hundreds have subsequently been released.

In 2013, as defense minister, Sissi led the military’s removal of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, after his one-year rule proved divisive and sparked massive nationwide protests. Morsi had risen through the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest Islamist organization. Under Sissi, it has been banned and labeled a terrorist group. The government regularly accuses its critics of collaborating with the Brotherhood.

Since becoming president, Sissi has overseen a wide-reaching crackdown against dissent, jailing thousands.

Earlier this week, Egypt’s top military court upheld a five-year sentence against a publisher who was convicted of spreading false news and disclosing state secrets in a military trial last year, according to pro-government media and rights lawyers.

Khaled Lotfi was arrested in April 2018 after his publishing house began selling an Arabic translation of a book by an Israeli academic who claimed that a top aide of late President Anwar Sadat was collaborating with the Israeli intelligence services in the lead-up to the Egyptian-Israeli war of 1973.

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