Egypt elections: Dozens detained after pro-Sisi rallies turned into anti-government protests

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Following state-sponsored celebrations for the candidacy of Sisi this week, participants started chanting against the incumbent president and trampled on his photos.

At least 67 men have been detained over the past week after protests in the northern Egyptian coastal city of Mersa Matruh called for an end to the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, according to a human rights lawyer.

A number of state-sponsored rallies on Monday that were initially declared to support Sisi following the announcement that he would be running for a third term spontaneously switched and turned into anti-government demonstrations.

Dozens of videos shared on social media – and verified as accurate by a number of activists and open source investigations – showed people in Mersa Matruh, a Mediterranean city, and in the Nile Delta governorate of Menoufia, calling on Sisi to step down and burning or trampling on campaign banners of the incumbent president. 

The footage followed reports of nationwide events, sponsored by the pro-Sisi Nations Future Party, celebrating Sisi’s decision to run for a third term in the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for 10-12 December.

Despite the documented footage, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement later on Monday, claiming that the people out in the streets were involved in skirmishes at an arts event. 

According to Heiba ​​Abdel Raouf, a human rights lawyer and member of the Matrouh Lawyers Syndicate, 67 young men have been rounded up in connection with anti-Sisi chants and the footage that showed people tearing down his campaign banners and burning them.

They are facing charges of “demonstrating, vandalising public and private property, and destroying public and private money,” the lawyer told Mada Masr news website.

They are due to appear before the public prosecution in connection with the charges. 

Abdel Raouf pointed out that the lawyers defending the detainees will emphasise the spontaneous nature of the protests and that they were not carried out with the intention of causing damage.

Middle East Eye has verified the report with the Egyptian Network for Human Rights, which confirmed the number of detainees. 

The presidential election will take place as Egypt, home to over 109 million people, is in the midst of a severe economic crisis that has seen the pound lose half its value against the dollar, leading to record inflation and foreign currency shortages. 

Sisi eying a third term

Sisi has been president since 2014, a year after he ousted his democratically elected predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, in a military coup.

He won a second term in the 2018 election in a landslide victory, with 97 percent of the vote, against one candidate, himself a supporter of Sisi, after all the significant opposition hopefuls had either been arrested or withdrew from the election, citing intimidation.

Constitutional amendments in 2019 paved the way for the 68-year-old former army general to stand for an additional two terms, as well as extending the duration of presidential terms from four years to six. 

The National Elections Authority (NEA) announced the dates for the polls last month, with nominations for the elections set to take place between 5-14 October.

According to the NEA’s regulations, in order to be accepted as a presidential candidate, the candidate must be endorsed by at least 20 members of the House of Representatives or be supported by no fewer than 25,000 citizens across 15 governorates who have the right to vote, with a minimum of 1,000 from each governorate.

Although Sisi can easily get endorsement from parliament, dominated by his supporters, Middle East Eye has reported that civil servants and recipients of government benefits are being forced to sign nominations to endorse him, in what appears to be an attempt to prove his popularity. 

The most prominent opposition figure, Ahmed Tantawy, who has announced his intention to run against Sisi, has reported harassment and intimidation of his supporters and members of his campaign. 

He has held Sisi responsible for blocking his supporters from registering endorsements.

“Every day, our supporters queue in front of registry offices, from morning till night, and go home without being able to file their nominations,” Tantawy told a gathering of supporters in Damietta earlier this week. 

According to members of the Civil Democratic Movement (CDM), which unites some of Egypt’s fragmented opposition, some public notary offices have also been armed by pro-government activists or thugs. 

Rania el-Sheikh, who tried to register her support, spoke at a press conference in Cairo organised by the CDM, and said she had faced difficulties. 

Sheikh said she attempted to register her support for Tantawy, but thugs quickly caused a scuffle at the notary’s office and she had her hair pulled by a woman. At the same time, a male colleague was hit on the shoulder.  

“In every place, public employees have predetermined reasons: the system is down, the internet isn’t working, the power is cut, your ID card isn’t showing for us,” she said. 

The NEA has responded to the statements by saying that it has carried out investigations into complaints and found them baseless. The authority also said that it has instructed notary offices to extend their hours to give people a chance to register.