Cairo – There are fears in Egypt from a ripple effect from the brief protests that erupted in a number of Egyptian cities, including in capital Cairo, on September 20.
The protests broke out on the iconic Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the popular uprising against longstanding president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and in other squares in the textile industry hub of Mahala, around 124 kilometers northwest of Cairo, and Damietta, on Egypt’s Mediterranean Sea coast.
These infrequent public shows of anger against the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came hard on the heels of the airing of videos by a construction contractor who accused the army and President Sisi of corruption and the mismanagement of public funds.
Mohamed Ali, the 45-year-old owner of one of dozens of construction companies working in construction projects overseen by the Egyptian army, alleged in the videos, which he broadcast to Facebook and Twitter, that Sisi built luxury palaces and villas, at a time of rampant poverty in Egypt.
President Sisi denied his allegations during the National Youth Congress in mid-September, saying he built the palaces for Egypt, not for himself.
Nevertheless, Ali’s allegations came at a sensitive time for Sisi, Egypt and Egyptians. Since coming to power in mid-2014, Sisi succeeded in building an image of a clean-handed leader who is in power only to rescue his country from the claws of Islamist extremism, bankruptcy, and political chaos.
This is probably the very image that makes him popular among tens of millions of Egyptians, especially those fed up with the corruption of the Hosni Mubarak regime, which ruled Egypt for 30 years before 2011.
Very firm and unwavering, Sisi succeeded in bringing order back to the streets and wages a brutal war against Islamist extremism in Sinai. The economic reforms he has been sponsoring since 2016 have brought the economy back on track, increased the exports, reduced the imports, and made Egypt well-positioned for an economic takeoff.
Sisi started his rule by donating half of his wealth and half of his salary for a fund created to help poor Egyptians. He has started a nationwide campaign against corruption, one that has so far caused ministers and governors to go to jail.
Nevertheless, Ali’s allegations have hit where it most hurts Sisi, namely his image and credibility. This was why he was keen on countering these allegations himself and belying them, despite warnings against doing this by his advisors.
The protests that broke out on September 20, in a way, reflect the extent of public belief in what Ali, who lives now in Spain, said in his videos.
This is giving hopes to Sisi’s opponents that a new popular uprising is in the making.
“This is a rare moment in Egypt’s history,” Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswani, who is an outspoken critic of Sisi, said. ” The wall of fear created by the mighty suppression machine has already been broken. Egyptians have returned to the squares,” he wrote on Twitter.
This is also why there are fears among Egyptians that the September 20 demonstrations can multiply in the future and open the door for unrest in Egypt, a country seen as a cornerstone of regional stability and security.
However, this return to the squares by demonstrators is a bit illusory, given the huge incitement made before, during, and after the protests by the propaganda machine of the Muslim Brotherhood, almost the Arab world’s oldest Islamist organization, and the media of allied states, including those of Qatar and Turkey, both archrivals of Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been trying to use the anger piling up over Sisi’s economic reforms and skyrocketing commodity prices to return to the political scene, almost six years after Egyptians rose up against Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, who failed to address any of his country’s economic, political or security woes during his brief presidency.
Ali’s videos are apparently the Muslim Brothers’ golden chance to return to this political scene. Brotherhood channels and newspapers propagated the videos on a massive scale and invited Egyptians to descend to the streets to oust Sisi.
On September 20, they ran and published videos and photos of demonstrators, most of them fabricated or dating back to the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, to give the impression that something big was happening in Egypt.
The Brotherhood issued a statement on the same day, in which it said it backed the protests. “We will participate in any action that puts Egypt on the track of the revolution once more,” it added in the statement.
The prospect of a Brotherhood return to power is scary, and even nightmarish, for tens of millions of Egyptians. When it came to power in mid-2012, the Brotherhood failed to translate its decades-old rhetoric about reform and tolerance into action. It polarized Egyptians, dealt contemptuously with Christians, and planned to a total control of state institutions.
When Morsi’s regime fell down in mid-2013, Brotherhood militias killed dozens of policemen, staged hundreds of bomb attacks and burned down tens of churches.
Contributing to Brotherhood propaganda about the protests was also the Qatari news channel, al-Jazeera, which is known to be a foreign policy tool of Doha.
Al-Jazeera aired videos of protests claiming that they happened on September 20, even as most of them took place in 2011. Al-Jazeera, which has been critical of the Egyptian president since he came to power, using all types of smear and fabrications against him, is even talking about post-Sisi Egypt.
Sisi, now in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings, and his backers are expected to push back. The coming days will tell how they will do this.