September 21, 2019

Egypts hardline president el-Sissi faces calls to quit in rare protests
Rare anti-government protests broke out in Egypt over the weekend calling on President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to step down -  in the first major protests against his rule since he took power in 2014. In the capital, Cairo, dozens of protesters gathered on Friday night near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 2011 pro-democracy uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators chanted slogans echoing the Arab Spring uprisings that briefly defied dictatorships across the region. police responded with teargas. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights said security forces reportedly rounded up at least four dozen people in Cairo and elsewhere in the country in a move that was condemned by Human Rights Watch. The protesters took to the streets following calls to mobilise by a self-exiled businessman,  Muhammad Ali, who accused corruption by the military and government in a series of online posts that went viral online. Small groups of protesters gather in central Cairo shouting anti-government slogans in Cairo, Egypt September 21, 2019. Credit: Reuters Mr Ali alleged his contracting business had witnessed the large scale misuse of public funds in the building of luxurious hotels, presidential palaces and a tomb for the President's mother, who died in 2014. The allegations came as economic reforms and austerity have squeezed Egypt's lower and middle classes badly. In a rambling speech on Tuesday, Mr el-Sissi angrily dismissed the allegations as "sheer lies." He portrayed Mr Ali's videos as an attempt to weaken Egypt and undermine the public's trust in the military. Police vehicles are seen in central Cairo as protesters gather shouting anti-government slogans in Cairo Credit: Reuters Mr el-Sissi, a former army general, has overseen an unprecedented political crackdown, silencing critics and jailing thousands.  He came to power after the military ousted an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013, amid mass protests against his one-year-rule. He promised to continue building new presidential residences despite the claims. "I am building a new country," he said, warning Egyptians against protesting or repeating the 2011 uprising. Egypt's 2011 revolutionaries reflect as Sisi consolidates power On Friday night, security forces speedily dispersed the scattered protests, which came directly after a soccer game between al-Ahly, Egypt's biggest team, and its archrival Zamalek. No casualties were reported. The willingness of the protesters to defy police and laws that all but ban public protests is being regarded as a potential turning point against the President’s rule, however small. "This is a very important development because this was the first such protest against the rule of el-Sissi," said political scientist Mustafa Kamel el-Sayed of Cairo University. "The small demonstrations demolished the wall of fear installed by el-Sissi and that could lead to more protests in the future."
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