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Friday, January 24, 2014

Egyptian Filmmaker Who Mocks Authorities on YouTube Detained Amid Widening Crackdown in Cairo

The sense that Egypt’s revolution has come full circle, with the security state shaken by protests that started three years ago this week finally reasserting itself, intensified on Friday with the arrest of an artist who posts wry commentaries on the country’s leaders on YouTube.

The artist, Aalam Wassef, was detained at his apartment in Cairo, near a locked-down Tahrir Square, along with a friend from Switzerland, his fellow-filmmakers Omar Robert Hamilton and Lobna Darwish reported in Twitter. Mr. Wassef, who made subversive Web videos during the Mubarak era under the pseudonym Ahmad Sherif, has continued to apply his cutting sense of humor to the generals, Islamists and remnants of the old regime who have ruled Egypt for the past three years.

One of Mr. Wassef satirical videos, posted on his YouTube channel last week, is titled, “I Was Revolutionary, But Now I’m Cured.” It shows the filmmaker having a dream in which pleasant memories of the 2011 uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power were suddenly interrupted by nightmare images of the recent crackdown on dissent by the military-backed government, including the arrest of the activist blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah for encouraging peaceful protest.

“I Was Revolutionary, But Now I’m Cured,” a satirical video posted on YouTube last week by the filmmaker Aalam Wassef, who was arrested on Friday.

In the second half of the film, the artist sleeps peacefully, and even sings a ballad to Mr. Mubarak, after painting heart-shaped graffiti on his bedroom wall around the date June 30. It was on that date last year that the military responded to street protests against Mr. Mubarak’s elected but increasingly authoritarian successor, Mohamed Morsi, by deposing him and putting in place an interim government.

The transitional administration has given free reign to the hated police force that was the original target of the uprising that started on Jan. 25, 2011, designated Police Day in Egypt. Since June 30, hundreds of Islamist protesters have been killed by the authorities and the many of the secular activists who mobilized support for the original revolt have been jailed.

Another Egyptian filmmaker, Hossam Meneai, and an American journalist and translator, Jeremy Hodge, were also swept up in the crackdown this week in Cairo, friends and family of the two men said in a statement published on Friday in the Egypt Independent, an English-language news site. The statement said that the two men were detained on Wednesday by Egypt’s state security investigations service, the secret police, and are being held at an undisclosed location.

No information about why the men were arrested has been made public, but the pair’s friends said that Mr. Meneai recently produced a documentary about Egyptian Coptic Christians for Russian state television and Mr. Hodge has done translations for the Berlin-based Transparency International. The United States Embassy in Cairo is reportedly working to gain access to Mr. Hodge, a Los Angeles native.

In his other recent films, Mr. Wassef has made his distrust of the current military-backed government clear. In one video, he mocked a wave of xenophobic, anti-American nationalism encouraged by the Army by remixing a speech by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, in which the new commander-in-chief praised Arab monarchs for their support, without mentioning that all of them enjoy close relations with the United States.

The Egyptian filmmaker Aalam Wassef’s video, “Sisi, the Secret American?”

In another video, posted on YouTube in August after the security forces attacked a Cairo sit-in, killing hundreds of protesters, Mr. Wassef suggested that the lessons for American policy makers should be clear: “Don’t finance military dictatorships. It’s rather damaging.”

“Egypt, August 16th 2013,” a film by Aalam Wassef, posted on YouTube that day.

Despite his skepticism about the military, Mr. Wassef is clearly no Islamist. Six months before the June 30 protests that led to Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the filmmaker had called for him to step down in a rap video that surveyed the chaos provoked by the Islamist president’s decision to grant himself broad powers to push through a new constitution.

A rap video made by Aalam Wassef in December 2012, calling on the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to step down.

As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reports from Cairo, the arrest of the artist comes after a series of deadly bombings shook the Egyptian capital one day before the revolution’s third anniversary. The filmmaker’s friends and supporters, including the writer Ahdaf Soueif, noted the irony of the police taking time to detain a supporter of peaceful protest as bombs exploded around the city.

Journalists reporting on the aftermath of the explosions in Cairo witnessed apparently spontaneous demonstrations in support of General Sisi, who is widely expected to run for president. The crowds, which roamed freely at the blast sites, also chanted against President Obama, who has been derided in Egypt as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, a conspiracy theory partly inspired by rumors spread by his political opponents in the U.S. Congress.

The recent spike in anti-American hysteria seemed to reach a peak earlier this month when a journalist and former member of Parliament, Mostafa Bakry, claimed in a tirade on Egyptian television that intelligence sources told him that President Obama was plotting to assassinate General Sisi. In that event, Mr. Bakry said, the Egyptian people would rise up in vengeance and “slaughter Americans in the streets.”

Video, with English subtitles, of the Egyptian journalist Mostafa Bakry claiming that intelligence sources told him of a plot by President Obama to assassinate Egypt’s defense minister.

Mr. Bakry later told Buzzfeed that his remarks had been “totally misunderstood,” but stood by the claim that Mr. Obama’s administration “supports the Muslim Brotherhood and supports the terrorists,” and so ” is putting the lives of American citizens in danger.”

In his most recent YouTube commentary, Mr. Wassef cast a skeptical eye on Mr. Bakry’s remarks, suggesting that he was in need of medical attention, love, or both.

Aalam Wassef’s video mocking an anti-American rant by a former member of Egypt’s Parliament.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.