One year after rare protests that led to the largest arrest campaign since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took office, protesters returned to the streets last week in a handful of governorates.
However, security forces were quick to disperse them, arresting at least 400 people, including many minors.
Egyptian media devoted significant airtime to denying the presence of protests and official authorities remained silent for over a week.
However, that silence was broken in the last two days, as President Sisi commented on the protests and the Public Prosecution announced the release of 68 minors who were arrested for participating in what the statement called “riots.”
“They continued to incite things, exploiting the tough decisions we have had to make,” Sisi said, speaking from the inauguration of Qalaa’s Mostorod Refinery Complex on Monday. “They say ‘change,’ and that’s the aim they lay bare to the people, but their true aim is the people’s destruction and the destruction of nations through lying calls and false claims to a counterfeit conscience.”
According to the prosecution’s statement, the minors were released after their parents had pledged “not to allow them to commit such acts in the future and keep them away from danger.” The statement, which was the first official acknowledgment that protests broke out in the last few days and arrests were made, stated that “interrogations with other defendants in the case will resume.”
Cabinet spokesperson Nader Saad joined the prosecution in breaking the silence on the protests from the government, confirming what he described as very brief protests that lasted for “five minutes” in the Atfeeh neighborhood in Giza. According to Saad, the protests were led by clay brick manufacturers, who had “legitimate” demands, as they have been affected by the increased dependence on cement bricks in construction. The workers’ grievances had been resolved by plans for the Armed Forces Engineering Authority and Housing Ministry to buy up products from the clay brick factories, Saad added.
While the spokesperson didn’t deny that other demonstrations had taken place, he dismissed the scale, adding that most of the protests monitored by the government lasted for minutes and were led mostly by women and children.
The small, scattered protests broke out across Egypt between September 20 and Friday and escalated into at least a few incidents where clashes between security forces and protesters ensued, local sources told Mada Masr. In the south Cairo district of Basateen, two officers were injured and several police vehicles damaged in clashes that took place between demonstrators and the police on September 20, two local sources told Mada Masr. In the wake of this violence, the police and Armed Forces have kept a security cordon around Basateen, according to residents of the area, who added that security forces move in to make random arrests from the streets and residents’ homes.
Similar clashes were also reported in Badrasheen, Giza, as local press outlets reported on the arrest of a number of “rioters” in the district after attacking a police car in the village of Abu Ragwan on Sunday.
Protests were also reported in different areas on the following days, with the Associated Press confirming protests in a Damietta village according to an anonymous security source. The protest broke out after Friday prayers on September 25 and was quickly dispersed, resulting in 10 arrests, said the source. Another security source told AP that security forces arrested four people “who intended to incite riots” in Luxor.
Last week saw the one year anniversary of the September 20 protests in 2019, which followed on from corruption accusations made by former contractor and actor Mohamed Ali against Sisi and the Armed Forces. Ali, who has resided in Spain, published a series of videos on social media in which he accuses Sisi and the army of squandering billions on vanity real estate projects, including presidential palaces and a luxury hotel for the military intelligence in a Cairo suburb.
Since mid-September, ahead of the anniversary, there has been a heightened security presence throughout the country. As of September 24, 369 people had been confirmed to have been arrested in Giza, Cairo, Sharqiya, Alexandria, Aswan and a number of other areas, according to the Democratic Transition and Human Rights Support Center. Three major charges were pressed against the defendants: joining a terrorist organization, broadcasting and spreading false news, and misusing social media. A number of other protesters were also handed charges of “funding terrorist organization,” “illegal assembly,” “participating in an assembly of more than five people” and “violating and destroying state property,” according to the center.
While protests continued to flare up on Friday, the media continued to maintain that nothing was happening, portraying the reports and videos that spread online as Muslim Brotherhood propaganda.
Going the extra mile to showcase the “Muslim Brotherhood’s fabrication” of protest videos, the intelligence-affiliated United Media Services Group staged and filmed a fake protest, sending it out to satellite channels affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood broadcasting from outside the country.
Channels such as Al Jazeera and Asharq broadcast the United Media Services Group-staged footage that claimed to show a recent protest in Giza’s Nazlit al-Samman.
During an Extra News special, Khaled Salah, the editor-in-chief of the UMSG-owned Youm7, and radio presenter Youssef al-Hosseiny, who is running in the upcoming House of Representatives elections, took to the airwaves to showcase the stunt.
Both presenters showed off excerpts of the staged protests in which actors posing as demonstrators chanted, “leave” and “down with the military rule,” suggesting that theUMSG’s deception of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated media channels vindicated the state’s assurances that “enemy media” publish material without ensuring their authenticity.
United Media Services Group is owned by one of the sovereign state intelligence bodies. The group owns the Egyptian Media Group, which in turn owns six newspapers and news sites, the largest of which is Youm7. The group also owns two companies for dramatic and film production, seven media and advertising services companies, and a security company.
On Friday, in a rare acknowledgment of the protests, TV presenter Amr Adib said on his show “Al-Hekaya” (The Story) that limited protests broke out in a number of villages — the same characterization that BBC Arabic used in reporting of the protests on the same day. Meanwhile, DMC, a channel owned by the Egyptian Media Group, broadcasted clips of pro-Sisi gatherings involving women raising Egyptian flags and chanting “Long live Egypt. Long live our President.”
The state media’s push ran beside coverage from the Brotherhood-sympathetic channels Asharq, Makameleen, and Al Jazeera, who broadcast what the channels framed as anti-Sisi protests that broke out after Friday prayers in the governorates of Cairo and Giza, as well as in villages in Damietta, Minya and Sohag. The channels also reported that two protesters had been killed by security forces, and a number of people were injured in the Giza village of Balida after security forces used live ammunition to disperse protesters.
In the following days, the pro-state channels continued to broadcast archival clips presenting “incidents of the Muslim Brotherhood’s violence,” while maintaining that videos of protests online had been fabricated.