Death of Egyptian director whose video mocked Sisi prompts calls for investigation

Filmmaker Shady Habash, who was arrested after directing a controversial music video, died at the age of 24 in a Cairo prison.

al-monitor A truck drives in front of security and riot police guards, outside Cairo's Tora prison, where the trial of ousted Egyptian Islamist President Mohamed Mursi took place, in Cairo, Egypt June 17, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

May 4, 2020

Opposition parties and human rights advocates in Egypt are calling for an investigation into the death of a young filmmaker in a Cairo prison

Shady Habash died in the capital city’s maximum-security Tora prison after his health had deteriorated for several days, his lawyer told Agence France-Presse. 

The 24-year-old filmmaker was arrested in March 2018 for “spreading fake news” and “belonging to an illegal organization” after directing a popular music video that mocked President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The song, “Balaha,” was widely popular in Egypt, garnering more than five million views on YouTube. 

Ramy Essam, who starred in the music video, wrote that Habash was “the kindest and bravest of people.”

He never hurt anyone. May God have mercy on him," Essam, who is in exile in Sweden, said in a Facebook post Saturday. 

Habash remained in detention for two years without trial. In an October letter from prison, he lamented that “prison doesn’t kill, loneliness does.” 

“For the past two years I’ve been trying on my own to resist everything happening to me, so that I can come out of prison the same person you’ve always known, but I can’t go on,” he said. 

Since Sisi rose to power in a military coup in 2013, thousands of artists, journalists and human rights defenders have been arrested as part of Egypt’s clampdown on dissent and perceived supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. 

Most recently, Egyptian security forces forcibly disappeared two women, Marwa Arafa and Kholoud Said, over critical social media posts. Human Rights Watch urged authorities to disclose their whereabouts. 

On Monday, Egypt's Civil Democratic Movement, an opposition coalition, called for an “immediate and transparent investigation" into Habash’s death and a review of pre-trial detention laws, according to Al Jazeera.  

Human rights lawyer Ahmed Ezzat wrote on Twitter that Habash’s death should be of concern to all Egyptians. 

“Calling on the authorities to release all detainees now does not concern only the opposition or activists. Anyone can be the next victim,” he tweeted. “No one is safe.”  

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