Islam Gawish’s detainment outraged his 1.7 million followers.
“Hey, no, throw away what’s in your hand.” (Image via artist Anwar’s Facebook page)
After Egyptian police arrested artist Islam Gawish on Sunday for running an unauthorized website, Cairo prosecutors released the 26-year-old the next day without filing charges. Gawish is the country’s most popular online cartoonist.
The arrest is the highest-profile yet by the Sisi regime, which jails the second-highest number of journalists in the world, behind China. It also comes in the wake of a cultural crackdown in Cairo during the weeks leading up to the fifth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution—state officials raided art performance and gallery spaces, independent publishing houses, and the office of news website Masr al-Arabia, whose managing editor was detained.
“Apparently we are facing a government that does not listen to any voice but its own,” the Arabic Network for Human Rights and Information said in a statement this week. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights called Gawish’s arrest a “flagrant violation of freedom.”
Gawish publishes his comic series, El-Warka (The Paper)—featuring stick figures drawn on ruled notebook paper—directly to his Facebook page, followed by more than 1.7 million people. While El-Warka has caricatured Sisi, the jokes aren’t radical and cover a range of social and cultural topics.
“Friday of Rage in Tahrir, 2011 / Black Friday in the Mall of Arabia, 2015” (Image via Islam Gawish’s Facebook page)
Since passing a cybercrime law last April, Egypt has aggressively clamped down on online speech. In December, a military prosecutor sentenced a 22-year-old Egyptian law school graduate to three years in jail for posting a photoshopped image of President Sisi wearing Mickey Mouse ears on Facebook. Last month, authorities arrested five people for managing Facebook pages sympathetic to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
The Ministry of Interior claimed on Sunday that Gawish was “publishing news without a license.” Following this logic, anyone disseminating information on Facebook without permission from the Ministry of Telecommunications is breaking the law.
Egyptian cartoonists responded this week with cartoons criticizing the regime’s thin skin, many of which went viral on Facebook.
“Sisi: ‘I don’t like being drawn.’” (Image via Mada Masr)