November 11 protests: popular uprising or damp squib?

A social media campaign called “Haraket Ghalaba” (poor people's movement) has emerged in the past month, calling on Egyptian citizens to flock to the streets on November 11 for mass protests against rising prices and Egypt's deteriorating economic situation.

The campaign's Facebook page has carried several videos slamming the government for its economic performance and general mismanagement, and calling on Egyptians to topple the regime.

While the origins of the campaign remain somewhat murky, many of the videos are presented by Yasser al-Omda, a Turkey-based spokesperson for the group. In one video, which was aired on the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated channel Mekameleen, Omda said he was responsible for launching the campaign.

The founders and administrators of the Facebook page remain anonymous, but it has already attracted 99,000 followers, and the calls for protests on November 11 have spread through Egyptian media. However, the lack of any clear leadership and doubts about the likelihood of success have left many activists and would-be protesters unconvinced.

‘Bread and justice’

The campaign appears to be tapping into a general sense of dissatisfaction over economic conditions, particularly rising prices, and it envisages a gradual increase in pressure that might boil over into widespread public disorder.

The movement has called on workers' unions to hold a partial sit-in from October 22 to November 11, when a full-scale protest will be held. The movement also declared that it would be seeking the support of NGOs in Europe through the period of mounting protests.

Meanwhile, in the United States, one Egyptian journalist based in New York City, launched a Facebook event linked to the planned protests. Moustafa Elhusseiny's event attracted around 65,000 views, with many tuning in for a 30-second video featuring supporters of the planned protests and their reasons for wanting to take part.

“Regardless of any political or religious affiliation, we should protest to combat injustice, to save our country, before one day we wake up and find no food, and we have to fight in the streets for a loaf of bread,” he posted.

Egypt Independent tried to contact Elhusseiny but received no answer.

“We must take to the street to prevent the circumstances from becoming worse; protest to achieve your dream of a reputable country with freedom and social justice where you would be lucky because of your work not favoritism,” he wrote.

“If we took to the street we could make a change because the current regime is much weaker than Mubarak’s one. If we protested alone we would die, but if you come with us we will save our country.”

In August 2014, anonymous activists launched the so-called “Dunk Movement” to protest against deteriorating living conditions, including frequent electricity outages and fuel subsidy cuts, which were followed by consumer inflation. The term “dunk” is commonly used in Egypt to express the difficulties of life.

According to some Egyptian media reports, the Dunk Movement was also founded by Yasser al-Omda, the Turkey-based figure so prominent in calls for protests in November 11.

Muslim Brotherhood plot?

Many in Egypt have identified the November 11 project as likely originating from the banned Muslim Brotherhood – or at least the group’s supporters and those opposed to the ousting of former President Mohamed Morsi.

The theory seems to be backed-up by online activity. Ikhwanweb, the official English-language website of the Muslim Brotherhood, posted an article in September asserting its support for the protests.

“In preparation for a new popular revolt on November 11, the Anti-Coup Pro-Legitimacy National Alliance calls on all Egyptians to participate actively and positively in this day of rage against repression, in preparation for the full fury in January.”

The same article laid out the range of economy-related justifications for the new wave of unrest: “…escalation of the suffering of the Egyptian people in general, and the poor and destitute in particular, due to absurdly rising prices, deterioration of services, increasing unemployment and the expansion of repression and violation of people's dignity.”

The Wafd Party issued a press statement condemning the November 11 protest calls, saying the Muslim Brotherhood was behind the effort to cause further unrest.

“The MB, who were defeated in the June 30 uprising, still have the deluded dreams of ruling the country again, and for that reason they permitted the spilling of public bloody through their terrorist attacks and attempts at chaos," the statement said.

Egyptian media coverage has likewise identified the protest calls as part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to cause further chaos. Talk-show presenters Lamis al-Hadidi and Amr Adib directly accused the Brotherhood and urged citizens to have more faith in the government.

Meanwhile, TV presenter Osama Kamal provided a theory on the significance of the date. According to Kamal, the number 11/11 represents the four fingers used in the “Rabaa salute” hand-sign used by Brotherhood supporters.

However, it seems the project may not have the full official backing of the Muslim Brotherhood’s international leadership. According to Ahram Weekly, the head of the group’s US bureau, Mohamed Al-Sharqaw, described the plan for protests as “political lunacy”.

Sharqawi called on Muslim Brotherhood supporters to refrain any such protests, saying they are doomed to failure before they begin.

Official warnings

Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar has responded by saying that rumor and speculation about 11 November will be ignored, but security bodies are prepared to deal with any disturbances on the day. In addition, steps have been taken to identify and arrest those involved in planning the protests.

Last week, eight people in Cairo were detained for 15 days on suspicion of planning illegal protests, inciting violence against the regime and the police, belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and attempting to change the Constitution. Six of those detained were students at Al-Azhar University.

When President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was asked about November 11, he said that the Egyptian people have sufficient political awareness to avoid being manipulated, meaning that those inciting unrest are doomed to fail.

Meanwhile, former assistant interior minister Ashraf Amin said that the protests were indeed being planned by the Muslim Brotherhood with a view to causing chaos, but that citizens had no need to be worried.

He said Egypt’s security apparatus is well prepared to face such “terrorist” actions.

Activists keep their distance

While many protest calls in the past have received widespread support, including from secular and liberal activists, this time the activists seem to be largely keeping their distance, at least publicly.

Former members of the April 6 Youth Movement, for example, have rejected accusations of involvement, saying the protest plan is not their work.

One youth activist summed up the mood with this online statement: “Nobody will protest on 11 November. Stop underestimating people's intelligence!”

Wael Ghonim, a political activist and a leading figure in the 25 January uprising, has joined the chorus of skepticism.

On his Facebook account, he wrote: “There is a big media promotion for 11 November. Personally, I neither know any person who will protest nor gather people together, except the media, which accuses me and the politician Amr Hamzawy, ElBaradei, Bassem Youssef and others of being behind the 11 November calls – and this is not true.”

Ghonim, who now lives in the United States, said that the only logical explanation for the protest calls is to create a “fake” threat to Egyptian security, providing the security forces with an opportunity to claim that they saved the nation from danger.

“It happened already many times before,” said Ghonim, warning that it is a dangerous game on the part of the security forces, one that might backfire at some point.

Pushing for policy change

While some are calling for mass protests, others are seeking to solve the problem of consumer inflation through dialogue with the government. Among them is Mahmoud Al-Askalany, from campaign group Citizens against Price Rises Association (CAPRA).

Askalany said CAPRA has submitted a proposal to the Cabinet for the setting of limits on profit margins on consumer goods, a measure aimed at controlling inflation and easing the burden on the poor. This month, the Cabinet formed a committee to establish such rules on all essential products and imported goods – a move in the right direction, says Askalany, but not fast enough.

“So far nothing has come into effect and the government is slowing down its performance,” he said.

Askalany has urged the government to move more quickly in response to people's growing anger, but he doubts there will be mass protests next month.

“I don’t think the November 11 calls will be able to exploit people’s anger at price increase. Egyptians have learned their lesson, and they won't allow anyone to deceive them again for political motives," he said.

As for the notion that security forces have cooked up the November 11 campaign as a means of flexing their muscles, he says such a notion is "stupid".

He said the government and the media would not work together to fabricate protest calls when the result would be more damage to Egypt's investment prospects and tourism industry in the run-up to Christmas.

“The main aim of 11 November protests is to keep the country under pressure all the time; these protests are aimed at stirring up public anger ahead of a big revolution,” he said.

So far as Askalany is concerned, the Muslim Brotherhood is most likely behind the whole thing: "The first post about these protests that I saw was published on the Facebook account of one of the senior figures in the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

No collective action

Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, also doubts that the security services are behind the calls. He says such theories are merely a reflection of the general sense of distrust that activists feel with regard to security services, based on past abuses.

According to Akl, the weak response on the part of the authorities is due largely to the anonymous nature of the campaign, which in turn suggests that the campaign is not run by a properly organized group with a plan for developing the nation.

“These calls are the result of public anger due to economic woes, but the political atmosphere does not permit any collective action or communication with the poor people who are the subject of the protests,” Akl said.

The calls for protests continue, but with little in the way of overt leadership and even less consensus on the benefit of more unrest, November 11 may be more of a damp squib than a popular uprising.


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