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EXCLUSIVE: Mohamed Ali spills secrets to Middle East Eye

Egypt's most notorious dissident sits down with MEE from a secret location in Spain, and says he won't stop until Sisi is removed
Egyptian whistleblower Mohamed Ali speaks to MEE from a secret location in Spain (MEE)
By Mohammad Ayesh in Spain and Taha Alesawi

The whistleblower whose video revelations about President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s palaces sparked mass protests and a fresh crackdown in Egypt told Middle East Eye in an exclusive interview that he will not stop until the dictator is removed.

“My aim is to overthrow him,” Mohammed Ali said.

Speaking at a secret location in Spain where he and his family have moved, Ali said he was operating completely independently, with no person or organisation behind him.

The actor and businessman said he had no affiliation to any opposition group or dissident faction within the Egyptian army.

On Wednesday: Ali discusses Sisi's rule, the president's dynasty and what's really behind Egypt's water crisis

If there had been, Ali argued, he might have been able to topple the Egyptian president.

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With Egyptians struggling under a flagging economy and austerity measures implemented by the government, Ali’s tales of lavish palaces built for Sisi using public funds were met with widespread anger.

Ali, whose real estate company has for years been contracted by the Egyptian government and military, has caused scandal and outrage in Egypt since he began releasing videos in early September accusing Sisi and other top officials of corruption.

“If there had been a group behind me, it would have helped me, instead of me sitting around humiliated, on my own,” he said.

For two consecutive Fridays, on 20 and 27 September, protests erupted across Egypt - the most significant challenge to Sisi’s rule in years.

They were met by authorities with a fresh crackdown on dissent, arresting at least 3,000 people, including well-known activists, journalists and lawyers.

Mohamed Ali
Egyptian whistleblower Mohamed Ali speaks to MEE from a secret location in Spain (MEE)

In his videos, Ali has encouraged Egyptians to demonstrate. But he noted to MEE no group has emerged to lead the protests and truly challenge Sisi’s government.

This, he said, was in contrast to the tumultuous period between Egypt’s 2011 revolution and the 2013 military coup that put Sisi in power, when the army and Muslim Brotherhood vied for control.

“Is there any other group in Egypt that has appeared? That is interested in taking hold of the country? No there isn’t,” he said.

“So where is the group that I would belong to? I consider the rest of the groups to be very weak.”

Lured to the embassy

Ali’s interview with Middle East Eye is the first he has conducted with any media, local or foreign, since he became Sisi’s most prominent critic. MEE will be revealing the contents of the conversation in coming days.

From the moment his first video appeared, the Egyptian government tried to lure him into its embassy in Madrid, Ali said.

“They told me: ‘Officials were upset by what happened to you, and you are a respectable man, and you are our son. You are dear to us and all that, so come to the embassy and let us sit together’,” Ali recalled. “I refused.”

Asked if he believed he could have shared the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year, Ali was reticent.

'I’ve received an unbelievable amount of threats… They are telling me 'we know where you are. We will find you one day''

“I don’t think that would have been done to me,” he said. “God knows, of course, I’m just giving analyses.”

Ali has said he was moved to leave Egypt and assume his whistleblower role after the Egyptian government repeatedly failed to pay his company for work it had completed.

That cash, he told MEE, was suddenly being used as a lure to get him home.

“They told me they will give me my money and more,” he said. “Calm down, don’t make more videos and don’t speak.”

Attempts to muzzle him were not limited to bribery, Ali said, revealing that he has lived under constant threat of assassination.

“I’ve received an unbelievable amount of threats… They are telling me ‘we know where you are. We will find you one day’,” Ali said.

How Egyptian media covered the anti-Sisi protests
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“I am not Spiderman. Anyone can hire a gang to kill me. I already knew I was putting my life at risk with the first video I posted.”

Though Ali denies he has significant support in Egypt’s security services, he told MEE that he has the sympathy of junior officers in the army.

“Junior officers who don’t have power of decision, who cannot resolve the situation, are in solidarity with me,” he said.

Faced with financial difficulties as authorities withheld funds due to him, Ali discussed his issues with these officers, who, he said, expressed dismay at Sisi’s management of the country.

“But an officer cannot speak up because he would be sent to a military court. But did important army generals speak to me? No, this did not happen, of course,” he said.

“At the beginning, when I was in Egypt, they used to tell me we hope he [Sisi] vanishes, but what can we do? And when I came here the [junior] officers used to complain and insult him.”

Ali said his sympathisers in the military messaged him following the release of his first videos criticising Sisi. “Then when he started to arrest people, all of them disappeared.”

Sisi’s electronic army

Among the real estate projects Ali worked on, he told MEE, was a multi-storey building used by Egypt’s general intelligence to house what the contractor called “Sisi’s electronic army”.

This army’s job, he said, was to monitor social media.

“Part of their job is to like Sisi’s videos and comment on them,” he revealed. He said the project to monitor the internet in  Egypt was funded by the United Arab Emirates.

“I have got my money from the UAE aid”, he added.

“Sometimes I laugh because I built this for them and now they are using them against me. Whenever I post something, they comment on it immediately.”

'I’ve been working to support my family since I was 15 years old'

Ali said he believes hundreds of employees are at work in the building, “some officers, but mostly civilians”.

But Ali refused to apologise for his past involvement, and said he was unaware that the military was rife with corruption in the early years of his employment.

Not everyone sees Ali as a hero. Many critics of both Sisi and the whistleblower note he worked as a contractor for the military and the government for 15 years.

The army, he reminded, has a stellar reputation among the Egyptian public, and is seen as a model of dignity and good manners. 

Leaked videos show mansions allegedly built for Sisi
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“When I started working I gradually discovered corruption. I didn’t discover it when I first started, it took years. But under the table dealings in Egypt is the norm,” he said.

“I observed things gradually until I reached the top of the pyramid [of corruption] when I started building palaces for Sisi. From then I started to understand the big picture of corruption and how the head of the state is making decisions.”

Ali is not from a political family, he stressed, and claimed he did not receive a proper education.

“I’ve been working to support my family since I was 15 years old.”

Now Egypt’s most notorious dissident, Ali has this direct message for US President Donald Trump, who has called Sisi his favourite dictator: “So you are ready to meet with a killer, dictator, you don't care who he is. You just care about receiving money.

“Maybe we need to save some money,” Ali suggested. “Then we can ask him to remove Sisi for us.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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