Protests Against el-Sisi Rattle Egypt
Protests erupted in multiple cities against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on September 20 after whistleblower Muhamad Aly shed light on the country’s economic situation. As of September 27, at least 2,041 protesters have been arrested according to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.
Security forces clashed with protesters in Suez, throwing gas bombs and firing bullets at the hundreds who gathered for the second consecutive night in a rare show of dissatisfaction with the el-Sisi regime. According to Al Jazeera, protests also occurred in Giza, Mahalla, Mansoura, and Alexandria. Mada Masr reported an unusually strong police presence in Cairo that prevented the return of protesters to Tahrir Square, the center of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
El-Sisi came to power in 2014 following a military coup, and has since altered the constitution to remain in power until 2030. Discontent with the regime has been widespread but suppressed by the government through arbitrary arrests of political dissidents, mysterious disappearances, and dozens of imprisoned journalists, according to Amnesty International.
Egypt has banned the entry of over 500 activists, and Freedom House reports that two newly-ratified laws, the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law and the Media Regulation Law, greatly expanded the regime’s ability to shut down websites in the name of protecting the people from harmful information.
According to Telesur, discontent spiked recently due to economic frustration. The government imposed unprecedented austerity measures. Austerity has raised the cost of living for the lower and middle classes most.
Inflaming this frustration, Aly, an actor and construction contractor, has posted accusatory videos on Facebook and YouTube since September 2 from his self-imposed exile in Barcelona. In his videos, he exposes misconduct and corruption in the military and accused the government of squandering public funds on luxury projects.
According to the Middle East Eye, el-Sisi responded to these accusations at the National Youth Conference in New Cairo on September 8, claiming that he has “built presidential palaces, and will continue to do so. [He is] creating a new state, but nothing is registered with [his] name; it is built for Egypt.”
Aly’s videos called for mass protests against el-Sisi, and for the return of the dozens of unofficially exiled activists. On September 20, he released a video expressing his desire for “respectable academia, intellectualism, and for everyone to speak freely.”
However, there is controversy over the intentions and backing of the protests, as state-run media, pro-Sisi academics and activists, and many citizens believe that they were coordinated by Muslim Brotherhood members in response to theories over former Egyptian President Mohamad Morsi’s death in July. The Egyptian government recognizes the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
State media, including popular newspaper Al Ahram, ignored the protests on September 20 but have now described them as small, emphasizing police dispersal of protests and the president’s disapproval of critics. State-sponsored news anchor Amr Adib broadcast confessions of seven suspects arrested after the protests. They have been accused of being recruited by or taking part in the Muslim Brotherhood, or being members of foreign communist parties.
Adib described their mission as “a hostile plot to incite against the Egyptian state.” TV stations have broadcast an empty Tahrir square, claiming that videos found on social media were either fabricated or from 2011, despite the specific shouts against el-Sisi heard. The government has cut off access to many social media and news websites in an effort to prevent an upcoming protest, Amnesty International reports. el-Sisi will likely continue to crack down on dissidents, but the Washington Post writes that these protests have “rattled his regime unlike any moment in his presidency.”