Tobias Hochstöger, MSc International Politics
While the demonstrations came as a shock for the Egyptian government, their harsh oppression has ended the short-living movement, at least for now.
In the aftermath of the recent protests, Egypt is undergoing the biggest wave of arrests under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rule. Over 3000 people have been detained In the past three weeks. While the demonstrations came as a shock for the Egyptian government, their harsh oppression has ended the short-lived political movement, at least for now.
The new wave of protests was marked by a series of videos, which appeared online, accusing al-Sisi and other high-ranking officials of corruption. The man behind the videos, Mohamed Ali, a 45-year old Egyptian who moved to Spain, claims to be a former building contractor, who worked closely with the government. In his videos, Ali exposes corruption within the government on the basis of his own experience; for a lot of Egyptians he is hailed as a whistleblower. Apparently having struck a chord within Egyptian society, his online appearances reached an unexpectedly wide following and Ali became the voice of a new anti-government movement within weeks.
Following the widespread indignation of Ali’s claims, scattered protests popped up on the 20th September in several Egyptian cities, such as Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. In Cairo, a few hundred people took to the streets with videos circulating online showing demonstrators shouting anti-government slogans and calling for Al-Sisi’s resignation. In some cities the demonstrations continued even until the next day. In Suez, security forces were firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the protestors to dissolve the demonstrations.
Authorities arranged huge forces of security over the weekend in cities affected by Ali’s calls for mass protest across the country, on 27 September. In Cairo several metro stations as well as major streets were closed for security reasons. Around Tahrir square, which was at the heart of the Arab Spring in 2011, security forces built checkpoints and were put on high alert. Moreover communication services like BBC News, phone signal and Whatsapp were restricted or temporarily disrupted by the government.
Aside from the 74th UN General Assembly in New York, al-Sisi strictly denied the claims, calling the allegations “lies and slander“ and blamed political Islam as being behind the protests.
The protests subsequently triggered a massive crackdown. Since the beginning of the protests, authorities carried out a campaign of mass arrests. According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), the crackdown that followed the protests led to the detainment of more than 3120 people in the past three weeks. The fact that the arrests were widened to public figures, who were not directly engaged with the protests, among them human rights lawyers, journalists, political activists and politicians, has led to fierce criticism. ‘President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government has orchestrated this crackdown to crush the slightest sign of dissent and silence from every government critic,’ said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s North Africa campaign director.
Furthermore, allegations about missing persons and torture do not fall silent. Alaa Abdel Fattah, a political activist and prominent figure of the 2011 protests, who was detained on unknown charges in the course of the arrest campaign, stated that he was tortured by police men in prison, as his family declared in a press release.
Public demonstrations against the government have become very rare in Egypt since al-Sisi has come to power in 2014, after Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi was overthrown in a military coup. Over the past six years an estimated number of 60,000 people, mainly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, have been arrested.