The demonstrations in Egypt on Sept. 20, 2019, should be a warning sign for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The call to demonstrate came from wealthy Egyptian building contractor Mohamed Ali, in self-imposed exile in Spain, who accused the president, his wife and senior officials of corruption. However, the real power behind the incitement of the Egyptian public is the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian newspaper AI-Youm al-Sabea, considered to be a government mouthpiece, reported on Sept. 21 that the Muslim Brotherhood had incited the public by fraudulently posting videos of demonstrations from 2011. A rumor was also spread on Muslim Brotherhood social media sites that a young man was shot and killed by the Egyptian security forces in Alexandria.
According to the report, the Muslim Brotherhood spent huge sums of money on teams to spread fake news on social media during the week leading up to the September demonstrations.
While there were certainly demonstrations against Sisi’s government in Cairo, Alexandria and several outlying cities, they were much smaller than indicated in the information posted by the Muslim Brotherhood, which claimed hundreds of thousands had taken to the streets. Still, the very fact that the Egyptian public broke through the “fear barrier” and a six-year ban on demonstrations to protest in city squares is considered an achievement for the Brotherhood.
President Sisi should be most concerned by the fact the Muslim Brotherhood’s return to life. It has succeeded in bringing demonstrators out to the city squares, particularly Tahrir Square in Cairo, where the demonstrations began that led to the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
What this means is that though Egypt’s security apparatus eliminated the senior and middle ranks of the organization, it failed to quash the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It is apparent that a new cadre of the Muslim Brotherhood is inciting the public against the regime in coordination with those of its leaders who are currently in Egyptian jails, and those that escaped to Turkey and Qatar.
There are also claims that opponents of Sisi within the army are cooperating with calls to demonstrate.
The Qatari site Al-Khaleej Online published a report on Sept. 21, about a new group called “the Egyptian Officers’ Front.” This group is tied to Gen. Sami Anan, a former Egyptian chief of staff currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Egypt. He was involved in attempts to push the masses to take to the streets to bring down the Sisi government.
This group opened a Facebook page on which it called for demonstrations against the Egyptian president. The group named Mahmoud Raafat, an associate of Gen. Anan, as its spokesman.
Although the group claims to represent high-ranking senior officers in the Egyptian army, the Egyptian authorities reckon that the Muslim Brotherhood is behind it.
While Sisi enjoys the support of the Egyptian army, the economic situation in the country is worsening. Egypt’s foreign debt has grown, and there is increasing corruption among the president and members of his regime.
Human rights organizations around the world claim that Sisi’s iron-fisted policy has created a serious human rights crisis. Even U.S. President Donald Trump referred to President Sisi at the G-7 Conference as “my favorite dictator.”
These factors have all created the vacuum which Egyptian contractor Mohamed Ali has entered, albeit with assistance from the Muslim Brotherhood.
President Sisi has managed to create a positive relationship with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has benefited the Egyptian economy. He also supports the Palestinian political figure Mohammad Dahlan, who today serves as an adviser to the ruler of Abu Dhabi. Sisi sees him as the successor to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Dahlan is considered to be a sworn enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sisi’s position in the region is firm, but the latest development with the Muslim Brotherhood is worrisome. In spite of the relatively small turnout at the demonstrations, Sisi should take heed. He should deal with this phenomenon before Sept. 27, when the demonstrations are expected to start again in central cities in Egypt and possibly pick up steam.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was first published on the website of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.