Protest calls go unheeded

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 28 Jan 2020

Calls for protests on the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution fell on deaf ears

Protest calls go unheeded

Mohamed Ali, a onetime military contractor living in exile in Spain, who launched a social media campaign against the regime of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, announced on Saturday that he is abandoning politics, Gamal Essam El-Din reports.

In a video posted on his Facebook page hours after calls for anti-regime protests on the ninth anniversary the 25th January Revolution went unheeded. Ali said, “Today was a defining moment in my life. Maybe my vision and views were wrong. There has been no movement or protest on the street today.”

“I apologise very much to the Egyptian people. The answer today was clear. It is possible that I was wrong and you were right. Maybe you see that the country is going well and that most of the people approve of the regime. The most important thing to me is that you lead a happy and satisfying life,” he said.

“You know that I love Egypt and the people of Egypt and everything I have done was for the sake of Egypt. Today, after I received your message, I decided to close my Facebook page. I vow I will never be involved in politics again.”

Ali launched his campaign in September when he posted a series of online videos alleging corruption in the contracting sector and public projects. A few thousand people subsequently demonstrated in Cairo and other cities, the majority saying they were protesting hard living conditions and not responding to Ali’s call.

The arrest of protesters led Ali to step up his online campaign and claim in videos that he would lead a new revolution in Egypt.

Ahead of the anniversary of the 2011 revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak from office, Ali had appeared on a series on Muslim Brotherhood-linked television channels broadcasting from Qatar and Turkey and called for massive protests. The day passed without incident.

Abdel-Halim Qandil, editor-in-chief of the weekly Sawt Al-Umma, said in a TV interview on Saturday night that Ali’s decision to withdraw from politics was no surprise.

“Egyptians had never taken his calls seriously,” said Qandil, adding that most people saw Ali’s anti-Sisi campaign as little more than a joke.

“Ali let himself be exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood which Egyptians cannot take seriously as a revolutionary force,” said Qandil. In 2011, he added, the Brotherhood had at first distanced itself from any uprising and then jumped on the bandwagon when people had been in the street for more than a week.

“The Brotherhood tried to do the same thing with Ali last week. He was someone they would have exploited if he had succeeded and disavowed if he failed.”

Another reason why people ignored Ali’s revolutionary calls, according to Qandil, is that they were unconvinced by the accusations of corruption he had levelled at the regime. “The accusations were flimsy but because his videos circulated on social media he thought that they had struck a chord with the public.”

Ali said on Saturday that Egyptians ignored his calls for protest either because they are satisfied with the regime or out of fear of reprisals. “Either way there was a clear lack of response to my call,” he said.

In November the Tax Evasion Prosecution Authority referred Ali to urgent criminal trial on charges of tax evasion. An investigation had been initiated at the request of Finance Minister Mohamed Maait into the records of the fugitive contractor.

On the anniversary of the revolution security was intensified across Egypt. Thousands of policemen were deployed around Cairo’s Tahrir Square and armoured vehicles were seen in major streets.

Alaa Abed, head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that people “never took Ali and his protest calls seriously”.

“They see that the country is moving forward and regaining its economic power and international prestige. And most of those who were arrested last September have been released under a presidential pardon.”

Samir Ghattas, an independent MP and a political analyst, said the local media was keen to commemorate the 25 January as the 68th anniversary of the Police Day. The holiday remembers the 50 police officers killed when they refused British orders to hand over weapons and evacuate the Ismailia Police Station on 25 January 1952.

“The media tends to ignore 25 January as the anniversary of the 2011 revolution, largely because of the economic problems the revolution created,” said Ghattas.

“There was a belief at the beginning that this revolution would create a better future economically and politically. But soon the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis hijacked the uprising, opening the door to grave economic problems and security conditions, and Egyptians began to view it as a negative development.”


*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.


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