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Egypt: will the calls for protests next month succeed in inciting citizens against Sisi?

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Belgrade, Serbia on 20 July 2022 [Milos Miskov/Anadolu Agency]
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Belgrade, Serbia on 20 July 2022 [Milos Miskov/Anadolu Agency]

Egyptian opposition figures in exile are working to confront President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his regime a month before the COP27 climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh on 6 November. Heads of state and political officials from almost a hundred countries are expected to take part in the summit.

Opposition activists have called for protests to be held before, during and after the summit. They include well-known Egyptian contractor Mohamed Ali; controversial YouTuber Nermine Adel; the Egyptian-American academic Mahmoud Wahba; actor Khaled Abol Naga; and YouTuber Reem Hindi. COP27 is being targeted because Al-Sisi hopes to gain financially from the summit and boost his international position.

Wahba called for a demonstration against the Al-Sisi regime on Friday 4 November, two days before the summit is due to start, on the basis that security will be very tight when that happens, so an earlier protest is better. Ali, however, has suggested the following Friday, 11 November. Actor Naga, meanwhile, suggests 7 November, the summit's second day.

France-based leftist Mostafa Bakri has called on Egyptian opposition figures in the diaspora to travel to Egypt on 2 November. Not to be confused with pro-Sisi MP Mustafa Bakry, he used Facebook to encourage Egyptian citizens to gather in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court on 2 November and call for the abolition of Al-Sisi's amendments to the constitution and the length of presidential terms of office.

READ: Rights group calls for release of 145 women, 89 children in Egypt prison

In what he described as a "statement to the nation" Bakri announced his intention to return to Egypt and run for the presidency. He is also planning a conference in Paris on 16 October.

Prominent media personality Ahmed Tantawi has used his platform on Arab satellite channels to call on Al-Sisi to step down. Lebanon-based Tantawi is the former head of the Dignity Party. Last month he explained his opposition to the Al-Sisi regime in an interview on BBC Arabic. His comments were welcomed by other opposition figures, and his name has been suggested as an alternative to Al-Sisi. In an interview with Alhurra last Friday, Tantawi called on the Egyptian authorities to issue a fair electoral law, implement valid election procedures and then accept the will of the electorate.

"Egypt needs a civil and democratic alternative that satisfies the people," he pointed out, "and most importantly provides solutions to their present problems and saves them from the failure that we are experiencing at all levels."

The General Secretariat of the Egyptian People's Dialogue, which took place between 7 and 23 August, led by Turkey-based Ayman Nour, suggested on 6 October the establishment of a shadow Egyptian government. "Its mission would be to save [Egypt], provide more realistic solutions to crises, and present a suggestive and reassuring model for the results of the needed change," said Nour.

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The opposition to Al-Sisi is such that Mohamed Anwar Sadat told almawq3 website that the president should announce that he will not stand in the presidential election scheduled for 2024. This is the first time that such a call has been made by a politician still living in Egypt.

"If you are keen to leave a remarkable history in this country, look behind you to Presidents Mubarak, Sadat and Abdel Nasser," said Sadat in his address directed to Al-Sisi. "The opportunity is still available, and history may register you with golden letters that you are the president who, out of his own free will, stepped down and granted a free and honest opportunity for everyone to run."

A number of political opponents have demanded a safe exit for Al-Sisi in exchange for stepping down from the presidency. Activist Mahmoud Emara suggested on Facebook that such an exit will be possible provided that Al-Sisi announces that he will not run for office in 2024 and, in the interim, "That he listens to experts and implements their recommendations across all sectors."

According to Anas Kishk, it is a "requirement" of Al-Sisi to explain the current situation to the people of Egypt; declare his responsibility for the failures; and apologise. "He should then cancel his constitutional amendments, after which a safe exit is possible. However, the decision is in the hands of the people, either a safe exit or prosecution." As for the government and the legislative authority, added Kishk, "There is no choice but to prosecute them for the bad situation that they have caused to the country and its people."

Gamal Mubarak, the son of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, visited his father's grave on the 49th anniversary of the October 1973 War, during which Mubarak Senior was commander of the Egyptian Air Force. His visit prompted controversy on social media. In a video that spread quickly, supporters of the former president gathered around his son and intimated that, "Mubarak's days will be repeated." The clear implication was that Gamal Mubarak may have a future in Egyptian politics.

Egypt protesters call on Sisi to step down - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Egypt protesters call on Sisi to step down – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Opposition figure Ghada Naguib, who lives in Istanbul, pointed out that a stern warning had been sent to the Sisi regime about litigation against the regime and the French government in respect of the so-called Sirli Operation, which took place between 2016 and 2018 when civilians were killed during military operations on the border with Libya.

"This is the most prominent event that has been taken by the opposition as real action rather than a reaction," Naguib told Arabi21. "For the first time, the opposition has gone beyond mere statements or press releases or the activation of existing entities or the establishment of new entities."

Two international lawyers revealed to Arabi21 last month the details of official complaints that have been submitted to the French Public Prosecutor and the UN on behalf of opposition Egyptian figures and movements. They have called for an investigation into the involvement of Egyptian officials and the complicity of French officials in "crimes against humanity and torture".

The implications of all these demands and calls as the Egyptian opposition gathers pace, believes left-wing activist and politician Hassan Hussein, are little more than "comedy" politics. "These calls come from figures at home and abroad who cannot move a stone from its place," he told Arabi21. "Nobody will respond to any of them."

Any opposition movement, he said, needs a clear plan and existing credibility. "Those whose names have been mentioned have neither a plan nor credibility." Public trust in the regime and the opposition has been eroded, claimed Hussein. "No matter which trend or party they support, the people know that the regime openly oppresses the country and its citizens, while the opposition colludes and opens a secret dialogue with the authorities."

While crises intensify and anger increases, he concluded, "As long as there is no strong and organised national movement, it is not possible to talk about a mass movement, let alone an uprising, revolution or change."

Well-known Egyptian publisher Hisham Kassem insisted that it is simply not possible to put all these opposition figures in one basket. "Some of them are not suitable for public work at all, but now there is an opportunity for some to speak about public affairs in the absence of real politicians and the voices of those who are now in prison. After the demonstrators take to the streets, what do they have to do? How can anyone communicate with the masses and control their behaviour, which may turn from anger into a popular uprising?" He mentioned the massacres of January 2011 by way of a warning; they led to the army taking control.

READ: Rights groups call on Egypt to allow peaceful protests at COP27

"When thousands of Egyptians take to the streets and casualties start to fall, will those who make these calls be taking part in the protests and leading the people or not?" asked Kassem. "Mohamed Ali, for example, will urge people to protest but will not participate himself."

At this time, the publisher believes, it is inappropriate to protest on the streets. "This is my belief even though I think that Al-Sisi is not fit to be president of Egypt, and the military rule that does not work in favour of the people of Egypt must end."

The calls for demonstrations are "dangerous" concluded Kassem. No less dangerous than what Al-Sisi is doing. "He is trying to get a loan from the International Monetary Fund to improve Egypt's credit rating and then obtain new loans. In any case, he will continue the repression. The explosion is coming; it's inevitable. The situation is much worse than what has been announced publicly."

All of these warnings, said one expert in measuring public opinion and information analysis, Mustafa Khodari, are on three levels. "Professional media channels that have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and their regional allies, which have a major role in spreading awareness and putting Al-Sisi's regime under constant pressure. Then there are those affiliated with anti-Sisi sovereign bodies who dare to offer initiatives and promises, and hint from time to time that there will be support from the bodies at home if a populist movement against Al-Sisi arises. And then there are some Egyptians abroad who include honest opposition figures who defend a real cause, as well as some who find in the Egyptian political situation an opportunity for fame or material gain related to the number of views and 'likes' that they get on social media."

READ: Climate Justice Alliance joins call for Egypt to release detainees ahead of COP27

The head of the Egyptian Centre for Media and Public Opinion Studies explained to Arabi21 that "In fact, there is no single entity capable of mobilising the people and reaching the core revolutionary bloc that can change, except for the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies from the Islamic movement. The anti-Sisi wings in Egypt know this." However, these wings want to topple Al-Sisi and replace him without an agreement with the Brotherhood. "So they have on more than one occasion sought to create a media momentum that suggests the existence of a populist revolutionary movement to drag the Brotherhood into taking part without reaching any agreement and providing guarantees to the group for the post-Sisi phase. The Brotherhood is aware of these moves."

Khodari concluded that "the best and most effective solution" to topple Al-Sisi is a revolution that follows an agreement between the Muslim Brotherhood and the anti-Sisi sovereign bodies. "Any other 'solutions' that every party adopts in isolation are unlikely to succeed."

Egypt being next COP27 host while it is one of the most polluting nations - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Egypt being next COP27 host while it is one of the most polluting nations – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 10 October 2022

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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