Thirty-year-old Muhammad Said stood on his balcony that overlooks “Arbaeen Square” in the “Suez Governorate” and set his phone up to the live broadcast mode through his personal Facebook account. He pointed the camera towards the crowds of people and police present in the square. It was the evening of September 20, 2019, and the people were answering a call to demonstrate announced by the Egyptian contractor and actor Muhammad Ali who live in Spain, and is known to be opposed to President Al Sisi regime
Said’s attempt to record and Live-stream the demonstration was enough for the Egyptian security forces to come to his home within 48 hours (to arrest him). Said managed to record the moment of his arrest with the same camera.
On the date of writing this investigation on February 1, 2021, Saeed has been still in prison in “Port Said”, accused of joining a terrorist group, using a private internet account with the aim of committing the crime of broadcasting, and spreading fake news that would disturb public order and terrorise the public.
Said’s motives were to record and document the demonstration through his Facebook account, and he was not the only person arrested (in Egypt) without taking part in demonstrations.
Activists, politicians, journalists and university professors were subjected to the same treatment. Blogger and programmer Ala’a Abdel-Fattah was also arrested along with his lawyer, Muhammad Al-Baqer by the State Security prosecution during the investigation with Abdel-Fattah. The arrests included Cairo University political science professors Hassan Nafa’a and Hazem Hosni, the former President of the Constitution Party, Khalid Daoud, lawyer Mahinour Al-Masri and hundreds others who were arrested after their phones were searched and their activities on Facebook tracked.
This comes as part of a campaign launched by the Egyptian authorities towards the end of last September and which targeted close to 4,000 people, according to data (statistics) published by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. Most of those arrested were charged with using a private internet account, and joining a terrorist group or sharing its goals.
Facebook is the leading social media platform in Egypt; according to the Crowd Analyzer report for social networking sites in 2019, more than 40 million Egyptians use it.
In recent years, targeting Facebook users in Egypt for security-related matters has become widespread. These users include political activists and non political activists even ordinary citizens were classified as members of the opposition. Arresting people for posting an opinion, a photo, or a video on their Facebook account has become the norm. Facebook users also get arrested in Egypt nowadays even for expressing “Like” or “Share” on certain posts. This is followed by prosecutions on charges that could carry a 10-year prison sentence, as the government has been aided by new technology that has increased mass surveillance of users, the use of loosely phrased laws to apprehend the suspects.
In this investigation, we shed light on five stories of ordinary citizens that the authorities have classified as opposition figures because of their Facebook posts. The government used an arsenal of laws and mass surveillance techniques to suppress their constitutional right to express their opinion. And this has forced most of them to leave the virtual world and to suppress their views as they hope to be readmitted in society as ordinary citizens again.
A Victim of Live Broadcast: Muhammad Said
Sounds of gunfire shot by police officers in Arbaeen Square could be heard on the evening of September 20, 2019. Muhammad Said recorded some footage from his balcony overlooking the square.
Next, Muhammad Said appears on camera and says, “The police are at my house to arrest me. All I did was record a video. I bid you farewell, and Peace be upon you.”
Muhammad Said’s Lawyer, Huda Abdel-Wahab, says, “He is from Suez, and he lives in Arbaeen Square where the demonstration happened. Said did a live broadcast of the demonstration. Unfortunately for him, Al-Jazeera channel managed to live stream images of the demonstration from his Facebook page”.