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Egyptian protests became a total shock. The man behind them is just as surprising.



Cairo – So little disagreement is allowed under the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi – and what is small comes at such a high price – that when only a few hundred people across the country have called for Mr. The wake of el-Sisi in the wake of the scattered protests on Friday night came as a shock.

The apparent trigger for the demonstrations was almost as unexpected: Mohammed Ali, a 45-year-old part-time construction contractor who says he received rich construction projects for the Egyptian military and then left for Spain to live in self-imposed exile, where he began to post a video on social media accusing Mr El-Sissy of corruption and hypocrisy.

In the three weeks since his first video appeared, Mr Ali has become a whistleblower, an el-Sissi antagonist and a protest guru, and his talk of corruption at the top has made him the leading opposition voice of the president. When the protests erupted, it was around the time and date that Mr Ali called from afar.

But the extent and durability of Mr Ali's influence from nowhere – and his ability to stimulate further demonstrations – remains to be seen. His leap from obscurity to fame also raised questions in Egypt whether his sudden fame was aided or exploited by powerful interest groups in the country, inside or outside the government.

"This is something weird," said Amy Hawthorne, deputy director of research for the Middle East Democracy Project. "Who is this person to whom he is related to, what made him come up with these claims now? He is obviously very well connected, but what exactly are his connections? ”

At least to some of the protesters, Mr Ali was less an inspiration than an opportunity to quell his frustrations.

"I protested because the way the Sisi decision was wrong and shameful," says 19-year-old Ali Mohammed, a resident of the Cairo Workers' Quarter in Bulak, who broadcasts some of the demonstrations on Tahrir Square on Friday. "Egypt deserves better than its land to be sold off or its people imprisoned."

He added: "People were just waiting for the opportunity to protest – Mohammed Ali's videos were not the real reason for him. did. The reason is that people wanted to take action. ”

On Saturday evening, about 200 protesters in the Red Sea in the city of Suez were greeted by police officers firing rubber bullets, according to social media posts and a witness.

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Credit Mohammed Ali, via Facebook

In Cairo, however, there appears to be no sign of further protests. On Saturday, police preventively flooded Tahrir Square, where mass demonstrations over the Arab Spring eight years ago overthrew President Hosni Mubarak and raised hopes for democratic change.

The test of how deep Mr Ali's influence can come as soon as next week. In a video posted Saturday night, Mr Ali called for a new round of protests against Mr el-Sisi to take place this coming Friday.

"We must stop making gods out of presidents," he said in the video, exhorting the military to remove Mr. El-Sisi from power.

Although the police did not kill protesters on Friday, security forces have not hesitated to use deadly force in the past, and Mr El-Sissi will likely order a quick and thorough crackdown if protests continue.

After coming to power in the military takeover in 2013, Mr. El-Sissi consolidated his detention through severe repression that stifled critics and restricted free speech. [19659002] An Egyptian monitoring group, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, said on Sunday that at least 274 people were arrested during the protests and that some protesters reported being beaten and tear gas.

Given the gravity of the possible consequences, observers were astonished that the protesters had dared to show themselves, apparently inspired by little more than a webcam man campaigning against Mr El-Sissi from Spain's security.

But Facebook videos Mr. Ali publishes under the name "The Secrets of Mohammed Ali" have become mandatory for television among young Egyptians, understood on social media, tuning in every day or two to watch him talk to making the camera chain, while he cheerfully insults Mr El-Sissi as a "man" and a "disgrace". So far they have been at least 35.

In Arabic, spoken, often spoken, and often with arabic breasts, he reflects on the growing dominance of the military in the Egyptian economy. He complains that he is owed millions of dollars by the government for construction work. He accuses Mr El-Sissy of wasting state funds for vanity projects like multi-million dollar presidential palaces.

Then last week, Mr Ali called on viewers to take to the streets on Friday night after a football game between two popular Egyptian teams. This appears to have released hundreds of Egyptians – many of them young, working men – who have taken part in protests in scattered cities across the country, including in Tahrir Square and the poor neighborhood of Warrack Island in Cairo, as well as in Alexandria, Suez and El-Mahala El-Kubra. .

But beyond the fact that the protests erupted when Mr Ali called for them, the theories far exceed the information available on his exact role. Some observers have speculated that Mr Ali may be a puppet, controlled at least in part by another entity, possibly people from Mr El-Sisi's government who are seeking to undermine or even topple a president who is outside the country, which The United Nations General Assembly is present this week.

"The whole thing is a little fishy," says Khaled Dawood, a longtime journalist and spokesman for one of Egypt's opposition parties, but nonexistent. "He did not introduce himself as a politician. Rather, he looks like a whistle and suddenly decided to become a revolutionary leader. "

Others wondered if the protests were indeed spontaneous or organized by opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that Mr El-Sisi had sought to silence since coming to power in the coup that overthrew President Mohammed Morsey. , a member of the Brotherhood, who was also Egypt's first democratically elected leader.

Mr. Dowd said the opposition, which has lost much of its leadership in prison or self-imposed exile, is waiting to see how the protests unfold – and determine who exactly protests – before jumping.

Those who support the president say it is likely the Brotherhood will calmly organize the protests. Although public opinion is difficult to gauge precisely in Egypt, they say many Egyptians support Mr El-Sisi's economic transformation and the stability it has brought during turmoil across the region.

'Trains leave and run on time. We've been missing this for two and a half years, "said Moataz Abdel Fatah, a pro-Sysical political scientist. "Most Egyptians would say, 'No, hold on, you can't drive a country into a waterfall.' "

Most protesters on Friday appeared to be young men in their teens or early 20s who were children during the 2011 and 2013 cataclysms when protests overthrew two successive presidents.

Well-looking and decent, Mr Ali can be seen as something of a people's hero, analysts say, an uneducated man who has made millions and who is now riding to save the working classes. He does not speak as a democratic activist or politician, but as one of them – or, perhaps, who they would like to be.

"It resonates with a wider sector of Egyptians in a way that no one has ever seen before," said Rabab el-Mahdi, a political scientist at Cairo American University. "They look at him and see a successful version of themselves."

It is perhaps not surprising that Mr Ali exudes the charisma of the camera. A film in which he is involved, and produced, for young Egyptians who make the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean to Europe, has won the Outstanding Art Award for Peace 'at the 2019 Luxembourg Peace Prize Awards in June.

But Mr Ali's motivations remain vague, as is his exact location in Spain, in an article published in the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair in July, he said he decided to settle in Barcelona and pursue business projects there after vacationing in the area.

Could not be reached for comment.

The plausibility with the Egyptians is, if anything, greater because it benefits from the very system in which it now takes the hammer, and because it does not seem motivated by ideology.

"He is not an opposition figure who seems to have had a grinding ax," said Michel Dunne, director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "He sees himself as an ordinary person, not an elite figure who tells them abstract elite concepts."

Mr. El Sisi may have helped to legitimize Mr Ali as an opposition figure in a recent speech in which he addressed but did not refute his claims.

"Yes, I have built presidential palaces and will build more," he said. "I will continue to do more and more, but not for me. Nothing is in my name. This is in the name of Egypt. "


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