Egypt sees 'day of rage' as thousands protest against Sisi across the country
Protests calling for the overthrow of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have erupted in more than 40 villages across Egypt on Friday for the sixth day in a row, despite an ongoing police crackdown targeting the wave of unrest.
The protests broke out in response to a call by the exiled whistleblower Mohamed Ali, who has urged Sisi's opponents in the country to take part in a “day of rage” on Friday to demand the head of state's departure.
On 20 September last year, Egypt witnessed rare anti-government protests ignited by Ali, who is in self-imposed exile in Spain after his video testimonies exposing corruption by the president and his entourage went viral.
The former owner of an Egyptian construction company, Ali claims to have witnessed corruption by Sisi during years of cooperation with the army in the implementation of a large number of construction projects, including luxury homes for the president’s family and friends.
This year, Ali asked Egyptians to participate in protests starting on Sunday to denounce commodity price hikes and the ongoing demolition of houses constructed without licensing or on farmland.
The demolition campaign has reportedly affected hundreds of thousands of low-income Egyptians, who are facing either eviction or heavy fines.
With a government's ban on protests still in place, the turnout at today's protests was a surprise for many observers.
Amr Magdy, Egypt researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the protests on Friday are “significant, even if scattered and relatively small”.
“Every Egyptian knows that joining an anti-government protest risks not only sending them to jail but also death,” he told Middle East Eye. “The space for civic engagement and independent organisation has shrunk so much in Egypt, and society is deprived from any channel of peaceful expression and mobilisation.
“Seven years of repression under Sisi have stripped society of its political parties and independent activism, so any protests that happen in this environment of severe intimidation and risk are a very brave act,” he added.
'New beginning for the revolution'
Whereas last year witnessed protests in several major cities and public squares, this year the protests have been concentrated in villages and small towns, potentially reflecting a change of tactic by Sisi's opposition due to the government's strict security measures in key cities ahead of the 20 September anniversary.
However, Ayman Nour, a self-exiled opposition leader and head of Ghad al-Thawra party, told MEE that the village protests were a result of the high risks associated with demonstrations in major cities, rather than a tactical move by the opposition.
He described Friday's protests as "a new wave of the revolution" and a "decisive day" for the anti-Sisi movement in the country.
"There have been a number of protests in recent days since Sunday that have built up momentum for today," he said. "Today is a real new beginning for the Egyptian revolution."
The following are some of the areas where residents posted videos documenting Friday’s protests:
Suez governorate: Al-Ganayen district
Qalyoubia governorate: Shobra al-Kheima
Alexandria governorate: Ferawn Street
Beni Sueif governorate: Kafr Atoub
Cairo governorate: Helwan
Middle East Eye could not independently confirm the veracity of all the footage.
In the village of Um Dinar, security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, and arrested a number of them, according to footage published by anonymous residents. Other footage showed protesters throwing stones at a police vehicle in Damietta in northeastern Egypt.
Egyptian pro-Sisi media have acknowledged that protests are taking place, but downplayed their size and impact.
Meanwhile, activists accused international media of failing to cover the protests, while Ali called on Sisi to open major squares for protesters to show the real number of his opponents.
Amr Waked, an Egyptian actor and pro-democracy activist, accused international media of a “blackout” on the protests, in the absence of coverage since Sunday.
In response to the protests, Egyptian security forces reportedly detained at least 150 people, while thousands of others remain in custody from last year's crackdown.
Those arrested in the recent raids are facing charges of “joining a terrorist group”, “broadcasting false news”, “misusing social media” and illegal protesting, according to human rights lawyers handling their cases.
Last year, at least 4,000 people were arrested for showing support for the new popular movement triggered by Ali's video testimonies, according to Amnesty International.
Sisi's government is accused of holding tens of thousands of political prisoners in jail on trumped-up charges. Many have died in custody due to medical negligence or other poor prison conditions, including deposed president Mohamed Morsi.
Human Rights Watch said that Sisi's reign had witnessed the country’s worst crackdown on human rights in its modern history.