Egypt's 'symbolic protests': Rehearsal for January revolution's anniversary?

Egypt's 'symbolic protests': Rehearsal for January revolution's anniversary?
4 min read
11 November, 2016
Protests against economic policies are signs that momentum is once again gathering for mass demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the January 25 in Egypt.
Egyptians are currently witnessing a major deterioration in economic conditions [Anadolu]
New calls for Egyptians to take to the streets in protest against rising prices and government austerity measures are signs that momentum is once again gathering for mass demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the January 25 revolution and in opposition to the current regime.

A little-known group calling itself the "Movement of the Poor" has called for major protests across Egypt to take place on November 11, to rally against the economic policies of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's administration.

Egyptians are currently witnessing a major deterioration in economic conditions with rampant inflation and increasing fuel prices, accompanied by increased taxes and government cut-backs that have resulted in a considerable worsening of living conditions over the past twelve months.

The decision by Egypt's central bank to free-float the Egyptian pound last week was celebrated by bankers and international proponents of free-market liberalisation but has led to major market instability and curtailed the spending power of local citizens.

A number of sources told The New Arab that while major opposition groups will not participate in Friday’s protests, the new calls could kindle a ‘return to the streets’ in the lead-up to the anniversary of the revolution of January 2011, which led to the removal of Hosni Mubarak and ended his three-decade rule.

Sources speaking to The New Arab's sister publication said that opposition groups have however reached a near-consensus not to participate in Friday's protests as the figures and motivations behind the "Movement of the Poor" organisation remain unclear.

Sources from the April Sixth Movement also added that participation in Friday's protests are uncertain as the Sisi-government is attempting to paint them as being Muslim-brotherhood led.

"The lack of coordination between opposition factions may weaken Friday's protests," Egyptian political analyst Mohammad Ezz told The New Arab, adding that all indications are that the protests will be small-scale if they even go ahead.

Ezz noted that the symbolic nature of the protests however maybe far more significant than their size.

"Everything can be expected on this day. People demonstrating, even in small numbers, will encourage opponents of the current regime to go back down to the streets," he added, "Friday's protests – however small – will awaken the streets of Egypt once more."

For Ezz, the upcoming January anniversary - in light of recent economic collapse - will have the potential to unite once disparate opposition factions.

"The anniversary of January's revolution will be seen as a meeting point for opposition factions in Egypt" Ezz said. "If they do decide to go to the streets on to mark the anniversary, it will be a strong force as the anniversary marks an important day for all Egyptians – rather than just one faction."

The 11/11 protests may be symbolic, but they could serve as a rehearsal for mass protests in January

Other opposition leaders have said while Friday's protests may be small-scale they are the first in a potentially-explosive series of demonstrations, as widespread discontent at government policies gathers pace.

The leader of the Egyptian Popular Current movement Masoum Marzouk told The New Arab that the "November 11 protests will pass without major participation but popular anger is growing quickly due to the failed economic policies of the regime and is it only a matter of time before it explodes."

Marzouk added that the conjunction of drastic economic decline with the anniversary of the January revolution could culminate in major demonstrations against the Sisi-government.

"The recent economic changes are going to be the cause of what many are calling 'the revolution of the hungry'," Ezz said. "People will come together to mark the January anniversary of the revolution with mass protests to reject recent economic changes."

The violent aftermath of the 2011 revolution as well as the 2013 coup fostered a sense of hesitation among a segment of Egyptian society.

"Poor people who do not want to ruin the country will not protest. They want to build the country, not destroy it," said Fatma Yasser, a pensioner, told Reuters

While the scale of Friday's planned protests remain unknown, Egyptian security forces escalated crackdowns against opposition activists over the last weeks for allegedly inciting unrest.

But parliamentary sources added that the security services will seek to avoid using excessive force in dealing with any protests in fear it will catalyse further protests in the lead-up to the January anniversary.