The public reaction escalated against young Egyptian actor Ahmed Malik and TV reporter Shady Hussein Abu Zaid over a video they produced on 25 January, in which they distributed ‘condom balloons’ to policemen at Tahrir Square.
The prosecutor general’s office received an official complaint Tuesday, filed against Malik and Abu Zaid accusing them of “insulting and offending police personnel and institutions”, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE). The incident was added to a report tracking “violations” committed by national security forces on the fifth anniversary of the revolution, under the pretext of security.
Human rights’ lawyer Malek Adly defended the young men on the grounds that what they did falls under the “freedom of creativity”, and other freedoms of expression guaranteed by the constitution.
“We should not be ashamed of what they did,” Adly wrote on his personal Facebook account. “At least we do not steal, murder or conceal corruption. We do not lie or submit. Go look for those wearing explosive belts, and leave us with our condoms, as they do not kill anyone.”
Local TV hosts fiercely criticised the video, which has gone viral, and its producers, defending the police and the Ministry of Interior on the grounds of “inappropriateness by insulting those who sacrifice their lives to preserve internal security”.
A shaken Malik issued a public apology Tuesday, asking for “forgiveness” in TV statements on the Mehwar channel. “As I clearly stated, I regret the manner in which my ideas were expressed and how the video was taken by the public. I had no intentions of harming anybody, and I hope that people stop insulting me in return and accept my explanation for the mistake,” Malik stated.
On the other hand, Abu Zaid, who worked for the satirical TV programme of puppet Abla Fahita, refrained from expressing any regrets following his colleague’s claims. “Why is everybody angry? I was joking,” he claimed in a statement published on his Facebook account.
“I have no regrets in taking part in the revolution of 25 January 2011… I have seen it all … the killings, the beatings, and all sorts of violations security forces committed. In the absence of justice, I became depressed for a very long time… eventually we were even banned from expressing our opinions, we were forbidden from protesting under threat of imprisonment. Most people stopped talking politics, trying to forget the revolution, but the truth is that they won’t, they can’t, just as nobody can speak up anymore, everyone is terrified, myself included,” Abu Zaid wrote.
He further stated that “ironically”, the anniversary of the revolution in 2016 was marked by an imposing security presence in the streets, accompanied by threats to anyone considering protesting. In his opinion, this scared people away as “nobody went out on that day, but everybody was remembering the revolution”.
Abu Zaid claims this is why he resorted to producing the video, which he considers a joke, using the “only tool we have left to face their weapons, power and legitimacy.”
As the case became a polarised political dispute between supporters and opponents of the revolution and the police, Abu Zaid easily obtained the support of young activists, such as Sanaa Seif, who replied to Abu Zaid’s post with the simple phrase of “right you are”.
Malik had stated that he would respect legal charges if brought against him, while Abu Zaid expressed fear and expectations of detention.
On the other hand, police officers have also used social media to “counter” the video. Although the page entitled “Egyptian police” is not the ministry’s official account, it did contain several threatening posts to the video makers.
“We swear that we will not let you go, you have now made yourself an enemy of 37,000 policemen,” one user wrote, allegedly a policeman. However, another police officer said in a video that “justice will not come from threats, but rather from the law, and other tools such as the media”.