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How did the videos posted by contractor Mohamed Ali recently achieve what the Egyptian opposition TV channels based in Turkey — “the legitimacy channels” — failed to achieve in six years? How was he able, armed with nothing more than a mobile phone camera, to mobilise the Egyptian public into overcoming their fear through which Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his regime have imprisoned them since 2013?
Ali expressed the injustice done to him with neither arrogance nor a sense of superiority; his audience has been suffering under the same injustice. In contrast, the opposition address the people from their ivory towers in exile. That is how Ali was able to win the people’s hearts from the beginning, when he said that he was suffocating. He wanted to connect with people who are also suffocating and discuss the hardship, repression and pain about which they have been unable to open their mouths. He found common ground in their oppression.
What’s more, he worked for the corrupt regime and learnt some of its secrets, giving him credibility. Ali was an eyewitness who lived in the shadow of this corruption and profited from it, then rebelled against it. This may have been to seek revenge because he was not paid what was owed to his company. He did, however, make it clear that he was offered a settlement, but that was after the personal harm caused by state corruption was exposed in his videos, in a direct challenge to Al-Sisi personally. He may also have had his conscience stirred and wanted to cleanse himself of the taint of corruption.
What is more likely is that there was a state agency in interested in utilising his oppression against a rival institution before he made these videos. It is this sort of controlled scenario that would allow him to achieve the result that he wanted. Or perhaps such institutions embraced him after his videos received a lot of attention and resonated with the public, and they wanted to use them to settle scores within the state apparatus.
Ali has spoken with extraordinary confidence and challenges Sisi openly, using vocabulary that undermines and humiliates him, not only as State President, but also as a human being. This suggests that the contractor is backed by a strong party. All scenarios are possible and we cannot be sure in this regard.
What is important, though, is that Mohamed Ali was able to reach and connect with the people because he is not associated with a specific party or group; rather, he is one of the people who stepped up on his own to speak out. This is why his message reached all Egyptians, even those supporting the state.
What Ali said regarding the corruption, squandering of funds and mismanagement is only the tip of the iceberg. The people know this, but have adjusted themselves to living this way and only discuss it in private.
The entire country knew, even before Mohamed Ali’s videos, the level of state corruption in Egypt and the waste of public funds in fake projects that have no benefit for the country. This excludes the millions spent on Sisi’s recent “youth conference” and other useless gatherings, which have become a frequent occurrence solely for the purpose of showcasing the emperor’s fake achievements and superhuman qualities bestowed upon him by the Almighty.
Over two years ago, the former head of the Egyptian Central Auditing Organisation, lawyer Hisham Geneina, claimed that he had documents confirming the government’s corruption and the waste of $600 million of state funds. He also mentioned the presidential palaces, which cost vast amounts of money. However, he wanted to hand it over to the President of the Republic himself, resulting in him being attacked in the streets and imprisoned for five years.
The people of Egypt know how Sisi has deliberately impoverished the country by drowning it in enormous debt that will be a massive burden for future generations. According to a report by Vice News, foreign debt alone since Sisi came to power has risen from $46 billion to $106 billion. The Egyptians are also aware of how he has conceded Egypt’s sovereign resources, such as the gas fields in the Mediterranean, valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, and how he conceded sovereign territory by giving up the strategic Tiran and Sanafir islands to Israel, and not Saudi Arabia, which merely acted as a front.
They also know that Egypt’s share of water from the River Nile was conceded in the dubious agreement signed by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in a suspicious agreement that he used to buy legitimacy for his coup and his recognition as president by the African Union, which does not normally recognise the validity of military coups. He then came to his “youth conference” to justify the failure of the Renaissance Dam negotiations with Ethiopia, blaming it on the January 25th 2011 Revolution.
The Egyptians know all of this and more, but despite it all, they did not mobilise against Al-Sisi, revolt or take to the streets out of fear of the regime’s brutality and torture. However, Mohamed Ali’s videos have shattered that fear.
These videos were the straw that broke the camel’s back or, as Israel’s Haaretz put it, the “cluster bomb has already done its job, and the government can’t ignore its lethal shrapnel.” Ali disgraced Sisi in the eyes of the Egyptians. He encouraged them to respond to his invitation to take to the streets and squares in protest, and they have done so, calling for Sisi to leave office. It was an epic scene reminiscent of the 2011 Revolution, as if we are witnessing its second wave. The nation is coming back to life and declaring that it will not die before handing the torch to the next generation. It was noticeable that most of those who took to the streets were not the same people who went out on 25 January 2011; they are a new generation born out of the great January Revolution.
The protests last Friday were truly an achievement for the Egyptian people after years of regression, oppression and surrender to the tyrant. This is thanks to Mohamed Ali, who broke the wall of fear and brought the Egyptians out of their imprisonment in the largest popular uprising against Sisi since he took office.
How will we invest in this popular movement and turn it into a large scale popular revolution that eradicates the regime from its roots, and not just at the top, as happened in 2011 leading to the victory of the counter-revolution and the situation we are now suffering? Ali has called for a “million man march” next Friday and it seems that all options are open to turn it into a widespread popular revolution across Egypt. The spontaneous behaviour of the people in the streets will determine the course of events over the next few days.
Another possibility is, God forbid, that the regime and its supporters silence the people with tanks and bullets. This will also be determined in the coming days. The most important thing is that the genie is out of the bottle and hopefully will not go back in. It has announced itself and stirred fear and panic in the heart of the tyrant, who cannot turn the clock back, even if he manages to win this round, because the post-Mohamed Ali phenomenon is a game-changer.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.