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story.lead_photo.caption Sean Clancy, Paper Trails columnist

Shady Habash was a young Egyptian photographer who died May 2 in a Cairo maximum-security prison. He had been held there without trial since March 2018, for his involvement with a music video that was shot in Bentonville.

Habash's attorney, Ahmed el-Khwaga, said the cause of death was unknown, according to a May 3 Associated Press article. He said Habash should have been released two months ago after serving the maximum jail time during pending investigations. The AP reported that Habash was 22; other outlets say he was 24.

Habash had been detained for "spreading fake news" and "belonging to an illegal organization," according to The Times of Israel.

Egypt's Interior Ministry, which oversees the country's prisons, had no comment, according to AP.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said Habash died as a result of "negligence and lack of justice."

Habash worked on the video for the song "Balaha," a guitar-driven ripper by Egyptian rocker Ramy Essam. The song criticizes Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi but doesn't mention him by name.

The video shows Essam, wearing all black and a fuzzy white cape, on the empty streets of Bentonville, singing in Arabic with English subtitles: "May Lord take you as we all pray/with all your gang boys to that darkest jail/I wish that you may rot in such a place." It has more than 6 million views on YouTube.

The song's lyricist, Galal el-Behairy, was also arrested and sentenced to three years in prison on charges of "insulting security forces" and "disseminating false news."

Essam, who is in exile in Sweden, filmed the video in January 2018, while taking part in an artist residency at House of Songs in Bentonville.

That's where Ted Swedenburg, program coordinator for the Center for Middle East Studies and a professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, met him.

"He is a really important cultural figure who paid his dues," Swedenburg says.

Essam participated in the 2011 uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak, and his song "Irhal" ("Get Lost") became a popular anthem. He was tortured by the military, according to a May 6 article on The American Prospect's website,

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Habash was not in Arkansas for Essam's video shoot, but is mentioned for editing and post-production in its credits.

He was a 15-year-old photographer when he met Essam at one of his concerts.

Essam told that Habash "was like my little brother. It was not just work relation."

After his death, according to AP, Habash's friends published a letter that he wrote from prison in which he talked about struggling to "stop yourself from going mad or dying slowly because you've been thrown in a room two years ago and forgotten."


SundayMonday on 05/17/2020

Print Headline: Egyptian's video role a heavy toll


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