Egypt is the latest African country attempting to take charge of their own destiny, sadly, this boldness has landed over 500 of Egyptians who protested the removal of their president, Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi in prison.
In a rare display of dissent, thousands of protesters on Friday and Saturday, September 21 and 22, defied a de facto ban on demonstrations and took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, in the port city of Suez and several other cities in the country protesting against Sisi. In what seemed like a response to a call, the protest began after Mohamed Ali, a building contractor and actor accused the president and the military of corruption in a series of videos posted online.
Ali, who had worked with the Egyptian military fled to Spain after releasing a series of videos alleging misuse of public funds. The videos have gone viral over the past two weeks and people have begun taking to the streets.
In Egypt, protests are very rare, not because they do not have a reason to, but because public gatherings of more than 10 people without government approval have been banned since 2013 when Sisi led the military’s overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi.
However, since 2016, discontent over the rising cost of living has been swelling in Egypt after the government imposed strict austerity measure as part of a $12 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund. According to official figures released in July, nearly one in three Egyptians live below the poverty line on less than $1.45 a day.
This weekend’s protests saw security forces respond to demonstrators with tear gas, rubber bullets and live bullets and, as of September 22, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), a Cairo-based NGO, reported that at least 220 people had been arrested.
ECRF said it had set up an “emergency room” to deal with the spike in arrests, and that at least 100 more people were likely to have been detained after protests in Suez, Alexandria and Giza. Another NGO, the Egyptian Centre for Economic & Social Rights, stated it had recorded at least 274 arrests since the demonstrations began. The number has increased to over 516.
The protesters, some of whom were under the age of 18, reportedly shouted “Leave, Sisi” before they were detained and accused, among other charges, of participating in an outlawed group, spreading false news via social media and protesting without permission.
This is not the first of such protest or arrests in the Northern African country. At least 60,000 people – most of them members of Morsi’s now-outlawed Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood – are reported to have been detained in the past six years. Hundreds have also been handed preliminary death sentences by courts, and activists say hundreds more have gone missing in forced disappearances.
Amnesty International noted that since 2015, Egypt has orchestrated a sustained political attack against the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the body that aims to monitor African states’ human rights records. “Dozens of cases alleging serious human rights violations have been lodged against Egypt at the ACHPR,” the human rights group said.
When asked about the demonstrations, El-Sisi on Monday, September 23, dismissed the corruption allegations as “lies” and “slander” as he blamed them on “political Islam.” He, however, did not talk of the arrests. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has since called for all those arrested for peacefully expressing their opinions to be released immediately.