- Protests against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have broken out across the country for the second weekend in a row.
- Since protests began last weekend, close to 2,000 arrests have been made.
- Protests were inspired by an Egyptian businessman and former military contractor who has accused el-Sisi and his military of corruption in viral social media posts and has called for action.
- Security measures have been increased, however, President el-Sisi told reporters there is “no reasons for concern.”
Protests Break Out
Protests against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have broken out for the second weekend in a row in major cities across the country.
Protestors want el-Sisi, who came to power in a 2013 coup, to step down. Close to 2,000 Egyptians across several cities have been arrested as a result of last week’s protests, marking the largest wave of mass arrests since el-Sisi came to power.
Security in the capital city, Cairo, has heightened since last week’s demonstrations. Security officials have blocked roads leading to Tahrir Square, where protests were expected to unfold. Metro stations in the area have also been shut down. Some Egyptians have also reported having blocked or limited access to news sites and social platforms that would contain protest information. Despite these new measures, el Sisi told reporters on Friday that there are “no reasons for concern.”
Protesters instead headed to the Warraq area after afternoon prayers. Reports say chants like “No matter how, we’ll bring Sisi down” echoed through the crowds. Other cities with protests of their own include Qena, Luxor, and Qaus.
Meanwhile, counter-protests in favor of the president have also broken out in the country.
Why Are People Protesting?
Anti-Sisi protests were inspired by Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian businessman and former military contractor carrying out a self-imposed exile in Spain. On social media, he called for a “people’s revolution” to oust the president. He has been posting videos accusing both the president and his military of corruption.
Ali alleges that the military has improperly used state funds, and claims that the government owes him money. According to BBC, he fled to Spain to avoid possible pushback from Egyptian authorities.
Responses to Protests
International organizations have taken a stand against the arrests of demonstrators. Human Rights Watch called a release of all citizens who were detained for exercising their right to protest. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director for the Human Rights Watch said this crackdown shows that the government is afraid of the people’s power.
“The government’s mass arrests and internet restrictions seem intended to scare Egyptians away from protesting and to leave them in the dark about what’s happening in the country,” she said. “The nationwide crackdown on protests suggests that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is terrified of Egyptians’ criticisms.”
Amnesty International called on world leaders to stop el-Sisi and his government from mistreating demonstrators.
“The world must not stand silently by as President al-Sisi tramples all over Egyptians’ rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression,” Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns Director, Najia Bounaim said.
“These protests came as a shock because the authorities thought they had permanently intimidated protesters through the heavy-handed tactics of the past six years including arbitrary arrests and the use of excessive force, including lethal force,” Bounaim added. “The fact that protesters risked their lives and liberty to protest against President al-Sisi’s rule suggests his ruthless tactics have garnered frustration and anger.”
Egypt’s Attorney General, Hamada El-Sawy, said that investigations were being conducted regarding the arrests. He said over one thousand people were interviewed.
According to El-Sawy, protesters hit the streets over things like economic frustrations and “deception by pages created on social networking sites.” He also said that those wishing to protest in the future must follow the legal procedure of giving advance warning to authorities.
“The Public Prosecution called on citizens wishing to exercise their right to express their opinion by demonstrating legal procedures by notifying the concerned authorities, determining the number of participants in the demonstrations and their reasons and abiding by their time and spatial limits so as not to cause demonstrations in blocking public roads, disrupting public transport, closing shops or intimidating citizens,” he wrote.
See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (BBC) (The Guardian)
Thousands Protest in Russia Demanding Release of Putin Foe Alexei Navalny
- Russia faced some of the largest protests it has seen in recent years after thousands took to the streets Saturday demanding the government release opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
- Russian authorities declared the protests illegal and detained more than 3,500 people from more than 100 cities, including Navalny’s wife.
- The government also released a statement addressing Navalny by name for the first time, attempting to discredit claims he has made, including the idea that President Vladimir Putin has a billion-dollar villa on the Black Sea coast.
Largest Russian Protests in Recent History
Russia experienced some of its largest protests in years Saturday after opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for demonstrations to be held following his arrest.
Supporters demanded Navalny’s release but also called for an end to perceived rampant corruption in the Russian state.
Tens of thousands took to the streets and clashed with police in more than 100 cities, with independent monitors claiming that 3,500 people were detained by police. Among those detained was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, who was targeted by authorities during the protests. She is reported to have been released by Russian media agencies such as TASS.
Despite Russian authorities declaring the protests illegal and warning of repercussions for those who attend, the protests managed to reach a wide range of people. According to the New York Times, over ⅓ of protesters in Moscow said they had never protested before.
Despite the movements current popularity, it may be difficult to turn the popular, anti-Putin movement into something more.The protesters span a broad range of the political spectrum, from far-left communist and anarchist groups to nationalists and libertarians, meaning that while they dislike Putin and the corruption in the Russian government, they agree on little else.
Changing the Message
The protests unveiled a new shift in how Russian authorities deal with Navalny. In the past, authorities and state-backed media never mentioned him by name in order to downplay him; however, that changed this weekend.
Newscasters aired multiple programs to discredit him and paint him as a tool of the West, while Putin denied Navalny’s claims that he has a secret, billion-dollar villa on the coast of the Black Sea. Based on his salary of $133,000 a year, Putin would only be able to afford a single home in Russia. However, there is speculation that due to corruption and embezzling, Putin is likely the actual richest person alive.
Regarding Navalny himself, he’s still in jail pending court proceedings on Feb. 2. If those go poorly for Navalny, he could be in prison until the mid-2020s, but he is more concerned about his immediate future.
In a video to supporters prior to the protests, he made it clear that he has no intention of committing suicide. That statement was likely made due to the fact that many Russian dissidents seem to die via suicide, with much speculation about whether or not that was actually the case.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Business Insider) (Associated Press)
Some Flyers Are Forging Old COVID-19 Tests To Travel
- As a number of countries and airlines impose rules requiring negative COVID tests up to 72 before flights, more and more people have been forging old tests to make them look new.
- In a recent report from Vice’s Motherboard, two anonymous men detailed how they forged documents to avoid having to pay for new ones.
- “Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” one man told Motherboard.
Forging Old COVID-19 Tests
Many countries are now requiring flyers to present negative COVID-19 tests no more than 72 hours before they board planes; however, some people are reportedly forging their test results to get around the restrictions.
According to Vice’s Motherboard, one anonymous individual used Photoshop to change the date of several of his friends’ older coronavirus tests.
“Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” the man told the outlet.
Another person told Motherboard that he had changed the date of an old test result using Microsoft Paint in order to travel to Southern Europe for vacation.
Situations like this in Europe are not completely new.
“We needed a COVID-19 test for a family member and I spoke to one travel agent and he said, ‘Get it done and even if it comes out positive we will provide a negative one for you for £50’,” one person told The Sun in October.
While those people seemingly got away with potential forgery crimes, others haven’t.
Last week, it was reported that 45 people were caught trying to enter Croatia with fake COVID tests. Notably, they could each face up to three years in prison for forging documents.
Earlier this month, a 17-year-old Dutch girl was also caught with a forged COVID test while trying to escape quarantine in Switzerland.
Why Are People Forging Documents?
Part of the reason people are forging old COVID-19 tests may be to keep from being barred if a new test comes back positive; however, there also appears to be at least one other major reason: money.
Right now, tests in most European countries are free, but that’s not the case for people trying to go on vacation.
In fact, people traveling for leisure have been warned not to use free COVID-19 testing services to meet flight demands. Instead, they are required to pay out of pocket to have their test sent to a private company.
See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Independent) (TravelPulse)
Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests
- Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
- In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
- TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.
Navalny Calls for Protests
Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.
Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.
Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.
Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”
“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.
Censorship Payoff Unknown
For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.
According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.
It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.