Filmmaker Who Mocked Egypt’s President Dies in Prison

Filmmaker Who Mocked Egypt’s President Dies in Prison

CAIRO — An Egyptian filmmaker imprisoned over a music video that mocked President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi died at a maximum-security facility on Friday after two years in detention without trial, his lawyer said.

Mr. Habash was imprisoned in March 2018 after he directed a music video by an exiled musician, Ramy Essam, that mocked Mr. el-Sisi as a “date.” When the video spread widely on social media, Mr. Habash was arrested and jailed, said his lawyer, Ahmed el-Khawaga.

The writer of the song, Galal el-Behairy, was also arrested and charged, as was a third man who set up Mr. Essam’s Facebook page. In August 2018, a military court sentenced Mr. el-Behairy to three years’ imprisonment.

In 2016, a comedian who played a prank on the police in Tahrir Square, the site of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, was arrested and remains in jail. Numerous other Egyptian actors, writers, satirists and sports stars have fled into exile to avoid Mr. el-Sisi’s wrath, and some have been prosecuted in absentia.

Mr. Essam, the singer, became popular during the Arab Spring, but later fled to Sweden after he was briefly detained. He hired Mr. Habash, who had worked with other musicians, to make his video about Mr. el-Sisi.

In a letter from prison in October that was later published by friends on Facebook, Mr. Habesh spoke of his despair. “Prison doesn’t kill, loneliness does,” he wrote, describing what he called his struggle to “stop yourself going mad or dying slowly because you’ve been thrown in a room two years ago and forgotten.”

Mr. el-Sisi released 4,000 prisoners last month, in a traditional gesture of clemency for Sinai Liberation Day, marking Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai in 1982. But those released were convicted criminals, and political prisoners were not included.

Lawyers, lawmakers and translators are among those who have been arrested by the security services in recent months, including Kholoud Sayed Amer, the head of translation at the prestigious Library of Alexandria.

Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent political prisoner, started a hunger strike on April 12 to protest what he called his unjust detention. He is subsisting on water and tea, said his aunt, the writer Ahdaf Soueif, who was herself arrested in March for protesting about his conditions.

Although President Trump has generally offered unstinting praise to Mr. el-Sisi, the death of an imprisoned American, Moustafa Kassem, in January caused a rare chill in relations between the two countries.

Mr. Kassem died after six years in prison and despite pleas from Vice President Mike Pence for his release. He had been on a hunger strike at the time of his death, and the State Department later considered cutting military aid to Egypt in retaliation for the death.

Egypt sent a planeload of medical aid to the United States in late April, in what many analysts viewed as a gesture of coronavirus diplomacy. But the issue of prison conditions remains an American priority.

In a call on April 23 with Egypt’s foreign minister, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “emphasized that detained U.S. citizens be kept safe and provided consular access during the Covid-19 pandemic,” a State Department spokeswoman said.

Nada Rashwan contributed reporting.

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