Egypt is bracing for another day of protests as anger over corruption and deteriorating living conditions mounts.
Calls for demonstrations have multiplied in recent days, with activists urging participation in what they have dubbed the “Friday of Anger” rallies.
The latest wave of protests came after Mohamed Ali, a former military contractor who lives in self-imposed exile, last week called on people to take to the streets to commemorate a similar movement for change a year ago.
Since then, several protests have been held, mainly in the governorates of Giza and Beni Suef. Images posted on social media showed demonstrators holding placards and chanting slogans against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Several videos purporting to show security forces firing live bullets to disperse the crowd were also posted online. Al Jazeera could not independently verify them.
Security services tried to pre-empt the latest wave of protests by launching a campaign of arrests that included political figures such as left-wing political thinker Amin al-Mahdi.
Social media users also reported cafes being forced to close over the past week.
According to the independent Mada Masr news website, at least 150 people have appeared before the state security prosecutor, including 14 minors, this week.
They face accusations such as belonging to a “terrorist” organisation, spreading false news and misusing social media, the outlet quoted the defendants’ lawyers as saying.
Pre-empting the protests
In a rare show of dissent, thousands of people rallied in cities across the country in September 2019, demanding the resignation of el-Sisi following a call to protest by Ali, who, having worked with the military, alleged public funds were wasted on vanity projects for the president and his close entourage.
In response, authorities launched the “biggest crackdown” under el-Sisi’s rule, rights watchdog Amnesty International said, rounding up more than 2,300 people.
In a video message last week, Ali called on protesters to stay out until their demands are met. “Egyptians unite. Out of love for the Egyptian people, take back your country again. Don’t leave it in el-Sisi’s hands,” he said. “Do not go home. If we go home, they will detain us. We’re in the streets and now we need to stay there.”
In an interview with Al Jazeera earlier this month, Ali said last year’s protests were different because demonstrators returned home, “which made it easier for the regime to arrest them”.
“If five million people took to the streets, no one would be arrested at all”.
Egypt outlawed all unauthorised demonstrations in 2013 after el-Sisi, as defence minister, led the military’s overthrow of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi following mass demonstrations.
Since then, Egyptian authorities have imprisoned and prosecuted thousands of people, according to human rights groups, with a nationwide crackdown intensifying after el-Sisi was first elected in 2014 with 97 percent of the vote.
Some Egyptian activists have warned of the danger protesting poses to the lives of demonstrators, given what they called a tight grip on security by authorities.