If you believe that the Egyptian army contractor Mohamed Ali has a magic wand with which he can persuade millions of people to protest against President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, then this article is definitely not for you. However, if you believe in the inevitability of cumulative change through continuous waves of protest, then you need to read on.
What happened on 20 September? Was it really a revolution? Did five million Egyptians take to the streets, as Ali claimed? The most important question is: Did Al-Sisi leave?
For answers, we must look at the expectations and the reality of the Egyptian political scene before we can evaluate and analyse what happened. Mohamed Ali's calls for mass protests are not the same as those that he made last year.
Many people doubted him and his motives for calling people to take to the streets again. Some accused him of pushing people to get killed or detained, while he lives abroad in safety. Others said that such calls are futile, as no one will go out and protest. Moreover, people have gone further and accused Ali of working for those close to Al-Sisi in order to trick activists and protesters to go onto the streets and get arrested.
It was with this dark atmosphere and widespread despair that Sunday 20 September started quietly. There were no signs of a popular movement or demonstrations. This prompted regime loyalists to tweet the sarcastic #I_beg_you_take [to] the street.
By the end of the day, though, videos and pictures taken in 17 different governorates across Egypt were alleged to show demonstrations against Al-Sisi, during which protesters chanted anti-regime slogans and, in Alexandria and elsewhere, some clashed with the police. Shortly afterwards, the sarcastic hashtag disappeared and was replaced by #the revolution began and #down with military rule. Both slogans trended on Twitter thanks to thousands of retweets in support of the demonstrators.
After seven years of repression, torture and fear, there are still those who are able to protest against Al-Sisi. That is what I saw yesterday. Some Egyptians decided to break the fear barrier for once and take to the streets, not caring about the persecution of the police or the army. We raise our hats to such brave individuals who deserve infinite respect.
People who doubted the utility of the demonstrations and the source of the calls for mass protests and their effectiveness were amazed by the protesters' chants in the streets and encouraged by the videos coming from the different governorates. They wrote, encouraged and re-tweeted videos of the withdrawal of armoured vehicles and the confrontation between the Sa'eedis of Upper Egypt and the security forces.
The most remarkable scene was Mohamed Ali's angry call to opposition media channels. He demanded them to speak out and motivate the people to protest. He then went further and accused them of treason for not doing so.
Mekameleen TV and El Sharq TV launched a similar initiative even before Mohamed Ali's calls. In fact, the "Masr El-Naharda" programme, broadcast on Mekameleen TV and hosted by Mohamed Nasser, aired videos of the demonstrations, showing the progress of the protesters.
In turn, "With Motaz" hosted by Motaz Matar and aired on El Sharq TV, also provided a live, moment-by-moment follow up of all the events taking place on the ground, then interviewed Mohamed Ali, showing clear support for the protests.
What I found interesting is that when Ali addressed the opposition, he did not mention the political elites or Egyptian opposition figures abroad or at home, but rather directed his speech to the opposition TV channels, which indicates that these TV channels were transformed from mere media outlets to a real project that can be extremely helpful at such times. However, this strategy raises many questions about the dire situation of the Egyptian opposition forces and figures abroad and at home.
Egyptian journalist Salim Azouz commented yesterday on the protest footage. Although the demonstrations "did not acquire sufficient momentum," he said, "[they] were not a failure as expected."
The attempt to protest, even if only dozens of people took to the streets, indicates that hope still exists in the hearts of the Egyptians. This popular movement shows that the revolutionary spirit is still kindling their souls and sparks a desire for change in their hearts. With waves of anger rising day after day, this military regime will eventually suffer the repercussions of its ill doings, sooner rather than later perhaps.
Translated from Arabi21, 21 September 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.