CAIRO – A video showing a reporter and an actor handing Egyptian policemen condom balloons on the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising received more than 1 million views online but could land them in jail.
The video was filmed Monday, national Police Day, and the anniversary of the uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The revolt was largely inspired by anger at police brutality.
The video, which has been shared 15,000 times on Facebook, showed the two men in their early 20s laughing as they unwrap and inflate condoms. “From the youth of Egypt to the police,” was written on the balloons.
The video later showed them in Tahrir Square — birthplace of the 2011 uprising — handing the balloons to unwitting police conscripts.
Tahrir was virtually empty on Monday except for several dozen supporters of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former general who overthrew an elected Islamist leader in 2013.
The two men in the video— actor Ahmed Malek and reporter Shady Hussein, who works for a satirical program— mimicked the el-Sissi supporters, waving Egyptian flags, kissing the ground and shouting “long live Egypt!”
Prosecutors are now reviewing complaints that accuse them of insulting the police. If charged and convicted, they face no less than six months in jail and a fine of 10,000 pounds ($1,250).
Police melted away following daylong street battles with protesters on Jan. 28, 2011. It took them nearly two years to fully assume their responsibilities. Nowadays, rights groups accuse the largely militarized force of returning to Mubarak-era practices like torture, random arrests and forced disappearances.
“What, why are you all worked up? I was joking,” Hussein wrote on Facebook in response to the uproar over the video. He argued that the prank, however offensive, paled in comparison to the police abuses he said he witnessed first-hand during the 2011 uprising.
People “have not forgotten and will not forget what you did,” he wrote, addressing the police. “I feel like my days outside prison are numbered,” he said.
Hussein’s status update was shared over 20,000 times in less than an hour.
Hussein’s colleague, Malek, also responded on Tuesday, but with an apology.
“Maybe this whole situation arose from the frustration associated with the lack of freedom of speech that my generation is enduring these days,” Malek wrote on Facebook earlier in the day. “Still, that does not give me the right to transgress or express my views in a way that encroaches on the rights of others.”
“I sincerely apologize to anyone insulted by the video, especially the police,” wrote Malek, who was referred to a disciplinary committee by the actors’ guild. The company that produces the satirical show Hussein reports for said it totally opposes what he did.
There has been no formal reaction from the Interior Ministry, but an unofficial Facebook page that claims to speak for the police demanded that the two be brought to justice.
“Congratulations, you have made an enemy of 37,000 officers,” it said.