Protesters in Cairo last week called for the removal of President el-Sisi. Getty images.
Currently in their second week of protests, the scattered gatherings in Egypt call for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to step down. Though the protests this week were smaller in size and number compared to last week, the demonstrations continue to challenge the authoritarian government.
In a country where the government has imprisoned thousands of political opponents and controls the media, even the smallest of protests represents a shocking challenge to absolute authority.
The protests followed the UN summit, and President el-Sisi seemed unwilling to take chances with Egypt’s recent reputation for peace. The Egyptian government has been swift and decisive in smothering the demonstrations. Tear gas was used to break up rallies. In pursuit of stunting the organization of uprisings, more than 2,000 Egyptians have been arrested in the last two weeks, preventing protest leaders and organizers from continuing to lead. A number of those jailed are still waiting to be released.
The protests spanned several regions, including Warraq in Cairo, the city of Giza and the southern cities of Qus and Qena. The gathering in Giza was reportedly shut down before it reached Giza Square. Tahrir Square in Cairo, the central location for protests leading to the displacement of former President Hosni Mubarak, was closed off by police, preventing the protests from spreading to historically preserved locations.
Protesters take to the streets to oppose Mubarak in 2011. Flickr.
Protesters stopped buses and cars at intersections and shut down major streets. Residents joined after leaving mosques for midday prayers, filling the streets with posters, shouting, and marching.
Live Facebook videos were one of the only forms of documentation of the events aside from eye-witness accounts. The crowds reportedly chanted: “No matter how, we’ll bring Sisi down.”
Following the surprising protests last week, the government anticipated and planned for continued protests. They placed numerous police and plain-clothes officers in hot spots to disperse any signs of uprising. Pop-up checkpoints were randomly planted. This caused the protests to adjust by finding new areas, and subsequently losing a portion of participants.
Police guard Ramses Square in Cairo to prevent further protests from gathering. Mohamed Abd El Ghany/ Reuters.
Additionally, President el-Sisi orchestrated a pro-government rally to occur at the same time as the protests, using incentives like a day off work for state employees, and free food to encourage attendance. The counter-protest of more than 1,000 people took place near former president Anwar Sadat’s tomb. At night, the pro-Sisi counter protest became a concert with a stage and crowds chanting: “Long Live Egypt.”
Egyptian media, controlled by the government, condemned the protesters, calling them “forces of evil.” Authorities blocked both external (BBC) and domestic independent forms of media, including Twitter.
Though el-Sisi has been credited with stabilizing a tumultuous country, his policies have left a third of the population in poverty, according to the government’s official statistics. Those protesting were mostly young men with little to lose, creating an uncertain future for the movement.
Despite the unprecedented support for rare protests in Egypt against President el-Sisi, there has been virtually no coverage of the events in Western media.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said of the imprisoned protesters: “they have the rights to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be detained, let alone charged with serious offenses, simply for exercising those rights.”