Rare anti-Sisi protests in Egypt after online call for dissent
CAIRO - Hundreds protested in central Cairo and several other Egyptian cities late on Friday against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, responding to an online call for a demonstration against government corruption, witnesses said.
Protests have become very rare in Egypt following a broad crackdown on dissent under Sisi, who took power after the overthrow of the former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.
Security forces moved to disperse the small and scattered crowds in Cairo using tear gas but many young people stayed on the streets in the centre of the capital, shouting "Leave Sisi," reporters at the scene said.
Police arrested some of the demonstrators, witnesses said.
Protests were also held in Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, Suez on the Red Sea as well as the Nile Delta textile town of Mahalla el-Kubra, about 110 km (68 miles) north of Cairo, according to residents and videos posted online.
There was a heavy security presence in downtown Cairo and on Tahrir Square where mass protests started in 2011 which toppled veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak.
A pro-government TV anchor said only a small group of protesters had gathered in central Cairo to take videos and selfies before leaving the scene. Another pro-government channel said the situation around the Tahrir Square was quiet.
State TV did not cover the incidents, but a security source said that authorities had quickly dispersed the protests and arrested dozens of people.
At least 74 were arrested overnight, the source said, with plain clothed police patrolling sidestreets of downtown Cairo.
The country effectively banned protests under a 2013 law and a state of emergency is still in full effect.
Under the rule of general-turned-president Sisi, authorities have launched a broad crackdown on dissidents, jailing thousands of Islamists as well as secular activists and popular bloggers.
Mohamed Ali, a building contractor and actor turned political activist who lives in Spain, called in a series of viral videos for the protest after accusing Sisi and the military of corruption.
In his latest video posted early Friday morning on his growing social media accounts, Ali urged Egyptians to head to the streets after a highly anticipated football match between Cairo powerhouses Al Ahly and Zamalek in the Super Cup.
Thousands shared footage on social media documenting the demonstrations that sprang up in several cities including sizeable crowds blocking traffic in Alexandria, Al-Mahalla, Damietta, Mansoura and Suez.
Many users commented on the curious absence of military personnel and speculated about internal political squabbles between various Egyptian security agencies.
Last Saturday, Sisi dismissed the claims of corruption as "lies and slander", telling a youth conference that he "was honest and faithful" to his people and the military.
Former army chief Sisi led the military ouster of former Islamist president Morsi in 2013 and won back to back landslide elections.
He was first elected in 2014 with 97% of the vote, and re-elected four years later with the same percentage, in a vote in which the only other candidate was an ardent Sisi supporter. His popularity has been dented by economic austerity measures.
Nearly one in three Egyptians live below the poverty line on less than $1.40 a day, according to official figures released in July.
At the same youth conference where he denied graft allegations, Sisi also warned of the dangers of protesting - a position he has repeatedly taken.
He has regularly invoked security and stability as hallmarks of his reign in contrast to the situations in regional hot spots such as Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Sisi's supporters say dissent must be quashed to stabilize Egypt, after a 2011 uprising and the unrest that followed, including an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of police, soldiers and civilians.
They also credit him with the same economic reforms, agreed with the International Monetary Fund, whose austerity measures have caused economic and social pressures on many Egyptians.