If one believes in the Egyptian press, nothing has happened: The newspapers, which are owned by the state or government-related entrepreneurs, lose no word about what has happened since Friday in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities.
Hundreds of Egyptians protested there against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. They shouted the same slogans as in 2011 during the demonstrations against the then head of state Hosni Mubarak: "Get off" and "The people want the overthrow of the regime". According to human rights groups, security forces have arrested around 270 people nationwide.
The number of protesters is not comparable to those of eight years ago. But these are the first protests ever since Sisi overthrew freely elected President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 and subsequently massacred protesting supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since then, the Egyptian regime has fueled a climate of fear. People are in jail for critical tweets, anyone who publicly protests plays with his life.
It is surprising that the Egyptians stayed calm for so long
Sisi presents himself as an alternative, strict but benevolent ruler. He is the only one who can save the country from chaos, the return of the Islamists and Syrian conditions. That is why the President did not change the constitution until this year so that he can govern until 2030.
But even if Sisi has been cheering for years on the state-controlled media: Below the surface, the dissatisfaction of many Egyptians with the regime has increased significantly. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are protests against Sisi. It is surprising that it remained calm for as long as possible.
The economic situation of many Egyptians has deteriorated under Sisi. In return for loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government has implemented extensive reform and liberalization packages. Among other things, Cairo has since 2016 released the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound, cut subsidies and increased interest rates. Since then, food prices have multiplied, but wages and pensions have remained almost the same. The consequences are particularly acute for millions of Egyptians with low and middle income. Even according to official government figures, one in three Egyptians now lives below the poverty line.
At the same time, Sisi is investing billions in state prestige projects: he is building a new capital in the desert east of Cairo and a new metropolis for three million people in El Alamein. He extends the Suez Canal and builds the largest cable-stayed bridge in the world. For these major projects Sisi receives praise from the lenders. However, the regime fails to ensure that the poor will benefit, for example through education and health care reforms.
The mysterious Mohamed Ali
Only in recent weeks has the discontent among the Egyptians got a face. The face of Mohamed Ali. Until just a few weeks ago, the 45-year-old was a largely unknown actor and contractor who, among other things, has implemented major projects for government and military, such as the construction of a new presidential palace and a luxury hotel. Then he went to Spain.
Since the beginning of September, he has been posting videos on his "Mohamed Ali Secrets" Facebook page, accusing the government and army of corruption, wasting money and general inability. The state owes him several million euros, he claims. Sisi sinks billions in useless major projects and lives in the lap of luxury, while at the same time calling on the Egyptians to tighten their belts. Ali's videos were clicked millions of times and quickly became one of the main topics of conversation in the country.
بعد اخبار القبض على بعض الفاسدين في رئاسة الجمهورية .. انتظروا فيديو جديد بعد قليل # محمد_علي # ثورة_شعب # ارحل_يا_سيسيي pic.twitter.com/apQuNUbJjm- أسرار محمد علي - Mohamed Ali Secrets (@MohamedSecrets) September 22, 2019
Last week, Ali called the Egyptians to video demonstrations: on September 20 at 7 pm, people were supposed to protest on the streets for an hour. "We have to film our peaceful rallies and show the world the large number of Sisi opponents," Ali demanded. And indeed, not a few, despite great risks followed the call of this man, whom they know only from a few Facebook videos.
For next Friday, he calls for further protests, which is about a "people's revolution" that is about to begin. Already, the security forces have massively increased their presence in the cities. The regime is unlikely to allow the protest movement to build tent camps in Tahrir Square, such as the 2011 and 2013 mass protests.
At the same time supporters of the President launched under the hashtag "We are 100 million Sisis" a social media campaign to support the head of state.
An email to the foreign press
However, Ali's sudden emergence and tremendous popularity also raise suspicions among some Egyptians. They speculate that he may be controlled by Sisi opponents within the power apparatus who want to weaken the president. In any case, his videos reveal that he has to be well connected in Cairo.
Supporters of the regime, however, scent the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar behind Ali and the protests. They point out, among other things, that the Doha-based television station Al Jazeera had reported extensively on the protests.
On Sunday, the Egyptian government also sent a mail to foreign journalists with a barely coded threat. It has "watched very closely," as the international media reported on the events in Egypt, it said. Certainly not social media accounts are likely to be used as sources.
After a second day of protests in Egypt, the government sent foreign journalists a vague threatening email. pic.twitter.com/G5nBojkaCT- Gregg Carlstrom (@glcarlstrom) September 22, 2019
In other words, the international media should as well report on the protests as the Egyptian colleagues do: not at all.