Defying the stringent protest ban, hundreds of Egyptians mobilised in various towns and cities to participate in protests against the country’s autocratic leader Abdel Fattah el Sisi. Security forces are now cracking down hard on protestors.
On September 21, the chants of hundreds of Egyptian protesters filled the streets of Cairo and several other cities, calling for the departure of President Abdel Fattah el Sisi -- the first such incident since 2013.
The slogan, “Say it loud, don’t be scared, Sisi must go” has gained momentum, a major sign of worry for Sisi, a former army general who has been in power for five years after ousting the country’s democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The military takeover triggered countrywide protests, which were brutally crushed by the Sisi regime. Cairo’s Rabaa al Adawiya and al Nahda squares became known as the centre of a massacre that killed at least 900 people and wounded more than a thousand.
Ever since, Egypt has become a surveillance state, showing zero tolerance towards any kind of protest.
Trigger: A string of videos accusing Sisi of corruption
A constructor and actor, Mohamed Ali, who used to build projects for the Egyptian military, released a series of videos accusing Sisi of corruption and deceit in early September. Posted from Spain, where Ali moved a year ago, the videos purportedly show Sisi using public funds of up to millions of dollars on his own personal projects, including palaces and hotels, while passing austerity decrees impacting the Egyptian people.
“Yes, I have built presidential palaces and will continue to do so. I am creating a new state; nothing is registered with my name, it is built for Egypt,” Sisi responded to the videos calling the details Ali shared as “lies and slander”, while admitting using public funds.
Ali meanwhile gained a large social media following with the videos going viral, and he urged people to come out on the streets and demand Sisi's removal.
Ali’s videos surfaced at a time when a bitter dispute between the Egyptian army generals and the country's intelligence agency raged over Sisi's questionable leadership and the ongoing economic hardships that many Egyptians blamed on the government's austerity cuts.
Some believe the details in Ali’s videos were leaked intentionally as part of the ongoing power struggle.
On Friday, September 20, boiling public anger eventually led to the mobilisation of hundreds in Cairo and smaller Egpytian cities while Sisi flew to New York to give a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.
The government's response: Arrest, tear gas, and rubber bullets
In his video messages, Ali urged the military to arrest Sisi, saying the country was fed up with the president, and also asked them to back the protesters.
In a smaller scale recurrence of the 2013 events, the protesters faced tear gas, rubber bullets and arrest in response. According to a Cairo-based NGO, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), 356 people, including journalists, students, and activists arrested following the protests.
Mahienour El Masry, an award-winning human rights lawyer who was previously detained for two years for protesting was among those who were arrested for attending the protests.
A man from Suez, Mohamed Saied, posted a video on September 22, saying that police were about to arrest him for filming the clashes between the police and protesters from his home.
“The police are downstairs, and they’re coming to arrest me. I didn’t do anything but taking videos...I want to say goodbye,” Saied said in a video message on September 22. He hasn’t posted another video since.
Sisi hasn’t responded to the protests but a pro-government anchor, Ahmed Mousa, said that police had lists of people who attended the protests and anyone who participated would be arrested.
Under Sisi’s rule, the government has been criticised for silencing anyone mildy criticising the government under the guise of combatting terrorism, as well as for forced disappearnces and using detainee confessions solicited through torture. According to a Human Right Watch report, hundreds of people and entities were placed on an alleged terrorism list without a court hearing.
Around 20 journalists are currently behind the bars and at least 230 cases of enforced disappearances occurred between August 2017 an August 2018. According to the Stop Enforced Disappearance campaign, the number the forced disappearance cases between July 2013 to August 2018 stands at 1,530.
Security forces closed the entrance to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to prevent an expansion of the protests, with riot police surrounding the area. The government also restricted Facebook Messenger and social media servers, NetBlocks, an organisation that tracks internet outages, said in a tweet on Sunday evening.