As Egypt moves forward on the path to securing a $12 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the country has found itself facing mysterious calls on social media for protests on Friday against “economic conditions."
The calls grabbed active social media users’ attention, but almost all of Egypt's political parties and activist movements, except pro-Muslim Brotherthood groups, have announced that they are not participating in the “anonymous” calls.
The online interaction with the pages posed a lingering question that rapidly spread through Egyptian street: “Who was behind the calls to protest and what were the demands?”
On Wednesday, however, the page calling for protests announced it was shutting down activities on Facebook, citing "security persecution" against the administrator of the page. The page called on people to "like" a page calling for protests on 8 December to demand the return of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
The future of Friday 11 November's protests remains unclear.
“The Revolution of the Poor” has become shorthand for a number of mysterious calls to protest, which preceded Egypt’s announcement of an EGP flotation and the rise in subsidised fuel prices over the weekend.
The calls made their debut on social media in early September; amid a price spike in food commodities and scarcity of some essential foodstuff.
In early September dozens of parents gathered in Cairo to protest the lack of subsidised baby formula, as well as increased prices.
Shortly thereafter, the army announced that it would intervene to solve the baby formula crisis—saying it would provide the formula at a lower-than-market price.
In a speech later that month, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said the army provides food essentials to counter price hikes for low income citizens. The president explained that the action was a choice made by the army to help the country in its hour of need.
El-Sisi also said at the time that Egypt's armed forces could be “deployed in six hours to protect the country," a statement interpreted by some as a warning of possible confrontation on 11/11, or in the event of any threat to the security and stability of the country.
In weeks following, Egypt has suffered a shortage in some food supplies, including sugar and rice, amid a foreign currency crisis.
Some shortages continue at the time of writing. The government announced however that reserves of essential supplies are now sufficient for six months, or even a year and a half.
The "Revolution of the Poor” page, which has attracted around 80,000 likes over the past weeks, is supervised by a spokesperson who goes by Yasser El-Omda. He identifies himself as “the revolution’s poet” has released a couple of videos calling people to protest on 11 November against the government’s ongoing economic austerity policies.
Other anonymous pages followed, leaving people confused over who the original backers of the potential 11/11 demonstrations might be.
This is not the first time that the current government has faced protest calls.
Members of the Islamist National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) have been leading the protest scene against Egypt's current and interim governments since the July 2013 ousting of ex-president Morsi and the dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins in August that year.
The NASL announced in September its intention to participate in any 11/11 protests, calling on “all Egyptians to participate on this day as preparation for January’s big event.”"
Since its announcement, the NASL has been calling for additional protests prior to 11 November. They never materlised.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s English speaking portal, IkhwanWeb, has consistently published statements by the alliance, but it is unclear whether the group as a whole supports the 11/11 calls to protest.
Since 2014, the Muslim Brotherhood has witnessed divisions within its once organized framework, which it has not publicly discussed.
Egypt's political parties have announced that they are not participating in the “anonymous” calls.
Khaled Dawoud, the spokesperson for Egypt’s Democratic Alliance Current (DAC), told Ahram Online that the party “has no relationship with the calls and does not know the people behind them."
The DAC includes several parties: the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Constitution Party and others.
Dawoud said that the government shouldn’t exaggerate the seriousness of the calls and what they might mean for Friday. “History doesn’t repeat itself. You can’t set a specific date for revolting,” Dawoud said.
He added that he doesn’t expect the calls to for protest to “achieve demands on social justice, democracy, and the release of detainees."
Sherif El-Rouby, the 6 April Youth Movement spokesperson, has also denied any involvement in the 11/11 calls. 6 April, now banned in Egypt, has long been considered by government supporters as a movement allied with the Brotherhood.
Some experts believe that the 11/11 calls should not be underestimated.
Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) told Ahram Online that the “state was pretty nervous about the possibility of something happening."
“There are reasons why someone would protest right now; however, it's hard to know how many people will turn out in the end,” Kaldas told Ahram Online.
“There are two things happening in terms of the economic pressure people are under: the value of purchased goods is being restricted, their money is worth less, and [they're feeling the] humiliation of not being able to supply essential goods to their families, “ Kaldas said, adding that this would fuel frustration.
The current government has taken similar calls to protest seriously in the past. In November 2014, the ultraconservative group Salafist Front called for an “uprising of the Muslim youth” and a day of “Islamic Identity,” in which the group's supporters were encouraged to raise the Quran in demonstrations against the government.
The group's demands included the imposition of Sharia law.
Security forces were swiftly deployed to protect vital facilities, raising high alert. However, the protests never materialised.
11/11 in the media
Ahmed Moussa, one of the prominent media anchors known for his affirmative pro-government stances, warned viewers in an episode on 7 September of the “Poor Movement," which he said was led by the Brotherhood domestically and internationally in an attempt to exploit the “price spikes” situation.
Moussa showed screenshots from several websites he said were affiliated with the Brotherhood, including the El-Mesryoon portal and that of the Freedom and Justice Party, and quoted the alleged leader of the movement, El-Omda.
“Don’t let anyone use you and your agony like they used you in the January 25 days: the Brotherhood, the fifth column, El-Baradei, Revolutionary Socialists and others,” Moussa said.
Moussa added that “not a single noble, patriotic citizen is involved in this," referring to the protests as part of a “conspiracy” to “topple the state."
MP Mostafa Bakry, has begun sharing news about the Brotherhood’s intentions to “spread chaos." He has shared documents of “assassination lists” before 11/11, including 25 figures public figures, from media personnel—including Bakry himself—to military officers, police officers, and judges.
Ibrahim Eissa, a prominent journalist, writer, and night show host, told audiences on Monday that it was in “the best interest of some security institutions that people become afraid of 11/11. It is also in the interest of terrorist groups that [Egyptians] become nervous about the calls."
Eissa is known for being highly critical of the government, but said repeatedly that he believes "nothing will happen on 11/11."
Taking no chances
Police said on Thursday it had uncovered a stash of weapons that supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood were plotting to use ahead of planned protests against deteriorating economic conditions.
Having won little support from activist groups, it was unclear if protests would go ahead on Friday. But authorities are taking no chances. Dozens of people were detained in recent weeks for allegedly inciting unrest.
The Interior Ministry confiscated on Thursday a cache of arms and ammunition hidden in a graveyard and house in Fayoum province, southwest of Cairo.
It also said it raided five bomb factories around the country on Wednesday, accusing a militant group of coordinating with the Brotherhood to attack police checkpoints on the eve of the protests.
"The armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood intended to use the weapons in terrorist attacks as they take advantage of economic conditions to incite protests," it said in a statement.
In recent weeks, several people have been arrested on suspicion of inciting protests on 11 November and/or joining a terrorist group that aims to obstruct state institutions.
The suspects face charges of inciting violence to topple the regime, attempting to change the country's constitution and its republican system, incitement to attack police stations and joining the banned Muslim Brotherhood group.
Late Monday, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi held a meeting with leaders of the country’s security institutions, including Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar, defense minister Sedki Sobhi, and intelligence and military intelligence chiefs.
According to statements from the President’s office, El-Sisi ordered continued “maximum vigilance” and “combat readiness” to ensure the country’s security and the citizens’ safety.
Interior ministry spokesperson Tarek Attia said in press statements on Tuesday that the ministry has a security plan in place to combat any riots in 11/11, in coordination with the armed forces.
Attia added that Egypt’s security is a “red line," and that the ministry would not allow anyone to violate the law.