Exiled Egyptian calls for million-man march, as anti-Sisi protests erupt

"People...were looking for some kind of a spark, and Mohamed Ali has given that to them."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Self-exiled Egyptian contractor and actor Mohamed Ali called on Egyptians to hold a rally of a million people next Friday as protests erupted throughout the country calling for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to step down, according to the Turkish Anadolu Agency news.
The protests against Sisi were launched after Ali began publishing online videos earlier in September accusing the president and the military of corruption.
Pro-state media claimed that videos circulated of the protests on Friday were fabricated and were old videos that were simply re-posted.
In a 30 minute video clip, Ali thanked the army and police for not dealing roughly with demonstrators on Friday.
In the series of online videos, Ali accused the president and the military of corruption of spen millions of dollars of public money on palaces, villas and hotels.
He was a military contractor for 15 years before fleeing to Spain, according to Al Jazeera. His work allowed him to see how funds were being handled.
"Your time is up," said Ali in a video last week. Sisi has claimed that the accusations are "lies and slander."
According to official statistics, one in three people in Egypt is living in poverty. Other estimates put the number even higher.
"This is something that is a legitimate threat to the el-Sisi government - if it wasn't a legitimate threat, then el-Sisi wouldn't have come out and respond directly to Mohamed Ali at last week's youth conference," said Mohamad Elmasry, chair of the media and journalism program at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, to Al Jazeera.
Ali has also called for the release of all political prisoners as well as army and police officers arrested for opposing Sisi.
All unauthorized demonstrations were outlawed in Egypt in 2013 after Sisi led the military coup of former president Mohamed Morsi.
The fact that Ali "is an insider who worked with the military for about 15 years, that he has intricate details and also the fact that the economy is spiraling out of control for the average Egyptian" appears to have influenced many Egyptians, according to Elmasry. "People...were looking for some kind of a spark, and Mohamed Ali has given that to them."
Ahmed Moussa, a journalist close to the state, said on Saturday evening that there was "a conspiracy to overthrow the state, not the president," according to Anadolu. Moussa called on Egyptians to not be afraid of the "rumors" and stressed that the protests are subversive and will not interact with them.
There is tightened security at Tahrir Square in central Cairo where demonstrations occurred on Friday.
The Egyptian Democratic Party called for the launch of "comprehensive political reform," including the release of political prisoners.
"Sisi's departure is no longer a distant dream, but closer than ever,” said the Revolutionary Socialists movement in Egypt.
The official Egyptian News Agency quoted a statement by "youth parties and politicians" stressing "the need to immunize the Egyptian state against any destructive schemes or malicious rumors by supporting efforts to complete the political development process." The statement added that this "contributes to a more open public domain, that listens to all peaceful opinions."
Sisi arrived in New York on Saturday to participate in the United Nations General Assembly.
Politicians and opponents abroad called for continued protests inside the country on Saturday, but state-owned newspapers made no mention of the protests, according to Anadolu. Mohamed Ali, former Egyptian minister Mohamed Mahsoub and the office of the Muslim Brotherhood called for continued protests.
The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms NGO reported that it was following 44 arrests in Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura and Mahalla, along with unconfirmed reports of arrests in other cities.
The hashtag "Tahrir Square" trended on Twitter on Saturday and a picture showed protesters tearing down a banner with a picture of Sisi during a protest in northern Egypt.
Hassan Nafaa, an Egyptian political science professor who helped topple former president Hosni Mubarak, said that the protesters were telling Sisi that "the mask has fallen and is no longer trustworthy."
"Will Sisi derive the correct meaning and act on it?" asked Nafaa.
“What is happening in Egypt now is a long overdue movement ... to rid the country from tyranny,” said Yehia Ghanem, Al Jazeera's Middle East analyst.
The Human Rights Watch organization called on the Egyptian government to respect the right of peaceful demonstration and to release all those arrested who were solely exercising their right to protest.
“President al-Sisi’s security agencies have time and again used brutal force to crush peaceful protests,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should recognize that the world is watching and take all necessary steps to avoid a repetition of past atrocities.”
“When you have much of the population that doesn't live with the post-revolution trauma or memories, you have a group of young people coming in with a different set of demands and different kinds of understanding of a future possibility. So those on the streets today are very different from the ones that were there eight years ago,” explained Dalia Fahmy,  an associate professor at Long Island University and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, DC, according to Al Jazeera.
The leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, commanded Hamas officials not to comment on the protests in Egypt, Ynet reported.
Sisi 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.
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 economic reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund.
Reuters contributed to this report.