The Egyptian street has witnessed eruption of several waves of demonstrations in the wake of the July 2013 coup d’état, especially during the early years of the coup, where protests were organized on a daily basis in various regions and governorates across the country. The primary goals of these demonstrations at that time were to declare rejection of the military coup, demand restoration of the legitimacy of late President Mohamed Morsi, and punish perpetrators of massacres and mass arrests that took place in Egypt after the coup.
However, with the passage of time, the anti-coup popular movement weakened due to the heavy crackdown on dissent by the Egyptian Interior Ministry, and the increasing deaths among the anti-coup activists. In the face of protests and anti-coup activities, the Egyptian government has relied on a policy of repression, undemocratic legal frameworks, and harsh judicial tools, in attempt to quell the societal movement against the coup authorities, in addition to the legal, judicial and financial measures taken against opponents, especially those belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The security forces have faced the anti-military coup demonstrations with an unprecedented level of violence, adopting a revenge approach in using live fire and shooting to kill demonstrators, which has become a regular systematic approach that is carried out under the sight of everyone both at home and abroad.
Demonstrations in Egypt are subject to severe restrictions according to a law passed in November 2013 after the ouster of late President Mohamed Morsi. The Egyptian government whose members were involved in the military coup, have imposed a state of emergency since 2017, which is still in effect until now, as it is continuously renewed by Sisi.
Tiran and Sanafir
Despite the tight security grip imposed on Egyptian opposition forces, many popular protests have erupted since the 2013 coup, most notably the demonstrations against the waiver of the Egyptian islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, which had a wide resonance both inside and outside Egypt in 2016 and 2017. At that time, various parties and forces called for demonstrations, which earned the protests strong spread and solidarity of the Egyptian people all over the country, in rejection of waiver of a significant part of the homeland.
Despite the state of anger and refusal of the waiver of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, the size of popular participation in these demonstrations was disappointing to many observers, due to expectations that the popular protests would be much greater. Although there were heavy turnout compared to previous protests, the demonstrators did not have access to the main squares, where protests were confined to some side streets. This was due to many reasons, including lack of coordination between various political forces that had called for demonstrations, as well as the heavy presence of security forces in most Egyptian streets and the security measures imposed by authorities at the time, which altogether led to the failure of the demonstrations.
Mohamed Ali calls for demonstrations on Sept. 20, 2019
Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian actor and construction contractor suddenly appeared last year among the opposition figures after a dispute with army leaders over some construction projects that he had implemented in favor of the Egyptian army, which prompted him to leave Egypt for Spain, where he started to post video clips on his Facebook account criticizing Sisi and Egyptian army leaders and accusing them of corruption.
Since the emergence of his first video clip, Ali installed himself as opponent of Sisi and advocate of protests and demonstrations against him. Mohamed Ali’s stories that he presented about corruption of the regime leaders turned him into a leading opposition figure abroad. Moreover, Ali’s talk about the corruption of Sisi and his family as well as army commanders turned his issue into a global public opinion topic.
Indeed, the demonstrations broke out last year based on the timing set by Ali on September 20, 2019. However, when we analyze the protesters’ motives at the time, we find that the main reason for taking to the street and responding to Ali’s calls for demonstration was not because of people’s trust in Mohamed Ali, but rather an attempt to get rid of the regime and bring it down.
Mohamed Ali calls for demonstrations on Sept. 20, 2020
Although businessman Mohamed Ali announced last year that he stepped away from politics, he has recently reappeared ahead of the first anniversary of the September 2019 demonstrations and renewed his calls upon Egyptians to take to the street and demonstrate to complete their revolution and overthrow the Sisi regime.
Accordingly, hundreds of Egyptians went out for night demonstrations in several governorates, demanding the departure of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
The most prominent demonstrations that took place on Monday night, September 20, 2020, were in Cairo, Qalyubia, Giza, Alexandria, Beheira, Minya, Assiut, Sohag and Aswan. According to the video clips circulated on social media, the area of the night demonstrations included the areas of Al-Basateen in the heart of Cairo, Al-Warraq Island, Al-Ayat, Atfih, and the villages of Al-Dismi, Soal and Nazlat Al-Ashtar in Giza, Al-Qanatir Al-Khayriya in Qalyubia, Kafr Al-Dawar in Beheira, and Al-Islah Road in Al-Maamoura, Alexandria.
About the September demonstrations
Despite the tight security grip imposed over demonstrations, we can say that Egyptians from across the political spectra are still greatly hopeful. Despite the restrictions imposed on them by the tyrannical regime, innovative Egyptians always find new means and ways out and overcome these restrictions.
The mere response to calls for demonstrations and participation in them, albeit weak, is a successful attempt that confirms determination of Egyptians to break the barrier of fear that Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has created since his military coup. By taking to the streets, demonstrators tell al-Sisi and his regime that it is possible to break the security grip imposed on them for years. This clearly shows that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his regime do not enjoy any real legitimacy, and that they only imposed themselves on Egyptians by force.
The general climate in Egypt pushes everyone to participate in a great revolution against the regime, especially that there is a state of popular anger resulting from government decisions recently made that doubled livelihood burdens of Egyptian citizens, most recently enforcement of the law of reconciliation on building violations, imposing exorbitant fines on owners of housing units beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of residents of these buildings and housing units, which angered many citizens. According to the reconciliation law, demolition and removal of the house is the only alternative option for those who fail to pay the required fines.
The Egyptian people are well aware that the Sisi regime is compelling them to pay the bill of its failure and corruption, so it is expected that the protests will continue to escalate, albeit weak. The people know that there is no alternative to the revolution to restore their rights and topple the regime.
The political climate in Egypt is currently witnessing a state of complete desertification, including trade unions and youth movements. The public space is completely closed by Egyptian authorities, with the exception of some sectors that are allowed to work upon orders of the military ruler.
In order to ensure success of the popular movement, there must be cooperation between political forces, social movements and trade unions both at home and abroad. Also, the calls for change must be unified so that they become acceptable to all, taking into account that they are directed to popular sectors at home, not to specific elites, entities, or groups.
The Egyptian people now need to trust new leaderships other than that they are familiar with over the past years. This point is extremely important if there is a real desire to attract new revolutionaries that are indignant at Sisi and his regime, and prepare them to engage in popular protests, especially after marginalization of the Egyptian people by the military regime.
Professor Gene Sharp, an American political scientist, stated in his intellectual thesis on civil or non-violent resistance that the power of any state – regardless of its particular structural organization – ultimately derives from the subjects of the state, believing that any power structure relies upon the subjects’ obedience to the orders of the rulers. If subjects do not obey, rulers have no power. Therefore, civil disobedience as a means is considered a peaceful and successful tool in conjunction with popular protests.
Any ruling regime is subject to disintegration, regardless of its ability to use violence against protesters in the event of occurrence of an effective and appropriate pressure; when lack of cooperation becomes comprehensive, the power of the ruling regime diminishes, according to the number of residents participating in the disobedience or protest. Therefore, in Gene Sharp’s view, the calm and progressive nonviolent force can solve the seemingly absolute problem of the power of the ruler through lack of cooperation and persistence with that move.
Likewise, the Egyptian revolutionary media outlets overseas play an important role that cannot be overlooked, as they represent the only platform for demonstrations and protests and the only voice of the revolutionaries at home, especially after all media platforms have been closed there by Egyptian authorities, except for the regime’s mouthpieces and media arms. Therefore, the opposition media abroad must realize the serious task entrusted to it, and be supportive of revolutionaries at home, without showing exaggeration or underestimation, as the credibility of reporting events with all transparency has dangerous repercussions on the internal movement.
Social networking sites also play an important role in this respect, as had happened before during the January revolution and all other popular protests that followed it. Although the social media facilitates communication and interaction among participants in protests, however, these platforms must be handled with great care, especially after incursion of fake accounts created by the regime to mislead demonstrators, spread rumors, and target activists.
In fact, the Egyptian revolution is in a strong need for a rational and inclusive leadership to control the scene, as previous experiences of Egyptians had demonstrated the danger of neglecting the role of leadership and preparation of real alternatives capable of managing the country affairs and protecting its wealth in the event of the fall of the current regime.
Finally, after all their hard experiences at all levels, the Egyptian people are not likely to risk sacrificing for an unknown and dark fate; therefore, they are in urgent need for someone they trust to guide their way and pull them out to safety. The Egyptian revolution has never died in the hearts of Egyptians, but it only needs someone to ignite it and preserve it in the hands of the Egyptian people only. The Egyptian revolution is still ongoing!
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