On Friday, September 20, 2019, citizens took to the streets in several Egyptian cities to demand the ouster of President ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi. Apparently, the immediate cause of the sudden outbreak of protests was the allegations and calls made by Mohamed ‘Ali, an Egyptian actor and contractor who worked with the Egyptian regime, and in particular with the Egyptian military, in the last 15 years. After leaving Egypt a month ago, ‘Ali began posting videos on social media in which he made bold corruption claims against top officials in Egypt’s military. He also harshly criticized the management of mega-projects initiated by Al-Sisi, including the widening of the Suez canal and the construction of new presidential palaces, stating that they were wasteful, especially considering the desperate poverty of many Egyptians.
‘Ali’s social media campaign was extensively promoted by Qatar’s Al-Jazeera network and other Qatari media outlets, which lent ‘Ali a platform as part of the hostility that has prevailed between Qatar and Egypt in the last few years and Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, which is outlawed in Egypt.
Egypt’s pro-regime media initially tried to disregard Mohamed ‘Ali and spoke in general terms against maligning the army, without mentioning his name. However, after ‘Ali’s videos went viral, Al-Sisi decided to respond and answer his claims directly. In a youth conference he convened in Cairo on September 14, he called ‘Ali’s claims “falsehoods and lies” while declaring his own integrity and his loyalty to Egypt, and came to the defense of the army. On the construction of presidential palaces he said that he builds them for Egypt, not for himself, and that he is proud of this.
‘Ali, for his part, continued to post videos against Al-Sisi and called on Egyptians to take to the streets on Friday, September 20, 2019, and hold non-violent protests for an hour to demand Al-Sisi’s resignation. The call was heeded by hundreds to thousands of Egyptians who dared to demonstrate against the regime, which in the last two years has escalated its measures against its critics and taken steps to control the media and limit freedom of speech in the country. Protests were reported in several Egyptian provinces and in Cairo, including in Tahrir Square, the emblematic site of Egypt’s Arab Spring protests, which had been empty of demonstrators for several years. Videos circulated on social media showed protesters chanting “Al-Sisi, leave!” and “Say without fear, Al-Sisi has to go.” The security forces eventually dispersed the protests with tear gas and arrested dozens of them. On the next day, September 21, the protests continued but on a smaller scale. Since the outbreak of the protests, the Egyptian regime has exacerbated its measures against its critics and opponents, and against human rights organizations, which report that over 1,000 have already been arrested.
The Qatari media, and especially Al-Jazeera, which as stated is hostile to the Egyptian regime, covered the protests extensively and even actively encouraged them. From the first day Mohamed ‘Ali’s videos appeared, it aired them in full and held studio debates on them. It also aired live coverage of the protests, from several locations, and urged Egyptians to send it videos of the events. Furthermore, Al-Jazeera employees and presenters posting on Twitter described the events as an intense wave of protest sweeping Egypt and urged the Egyptians to continue it. Some of them also tweeted fake news, claiming that the Egyptian regime was teetering and that Al-Sisi, who had flown to New York for the UN General Assembly, had actually fled Egypt and might not return. The tweets were posted under hashtags calling for Al-Sisi’s ouster.
The Egyptian regime was enraged at the Qatari media’s coverage of the protests, especially the coverage on Al-Jazeera. It denied that protests had taken place, claiming this was fake news and that the streets and squares were empty and quiet. The Egyptian media blamed “media serving the Muslim Brotherhood,” mainly Al-Jazeera, of instigating protests in Egypt and trying to destabilize it.
This report reviews the slanted coverage and the fanning of the protests by Al-Jazeera and its reporters, and the Egyptian regime’s response to this.
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