Calls for protests on November 11 over deteriorating living conditions have been broadcast widely on social media under the slogan“Tharwat al-ghalaba” (The Revolution of the Poor) over the last couple of months.
Facebook pages and events have been populated by thousands of participants expressing their intention to protest. The call has also resonated on the streets and became a topic of conversation in coffee shops, on public transport and among neighbors.
While the Muslim Brotherhood organization is the only political group to have publically endorsed the protests, the source of the calls for action on November 11 remains a mystery.
On November 10, the Muslim Brotherhood called on members and the Egyptian people to take part in protests: “In light of the current conditions and confusing information about different groups and their arrangements for November 11, the group announces its inclination towards popular demands refuting oppression and catastrophic economic decisions,” the statement read.
“The Muslim Brotherhood should not be asked about their position, because they never left Egypt’s streets and squares,” Talaat Fahmy, a Brotherhood spokesperson living in Turkey says.“They are waiting for any popular movement in order to join as one people, one movement, in one unified revolutionary wave, with one goal, which is the reversal of the coup and the restoration of freedom, dignity, legitimacy and the choice of the great Egyptian people.”
Speculation in recent weeks about who initiated calls for protest on November 11 has ranged from the Muslim Brotherhood, to various state-sponsored entities trying to pressure others by mobilizing nationwide protests, to the state testing the waters of opposition or pushing people onto the streets in order to initiate a crackdown.
Security sources said police have already started campaigns to arrest protest organizers and members of Islamic groups. They have also increased checkpoints on major streets to catch those suspected of calls to protest. House raids have been conducted in the lead up to November 11, particularly in downtown Cairo and surrounding areas, in a similar fashion to the days ahead of the last anniversary of the January 25 Revolution.
The security campaign has so far included an unlicensed raid of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, and another raid of the office of Al-Tareeq website, which security forces told journalists was part of routine precautionary measures ahead of November 11. Human rights lawyers warned those who have been previously detained in political cases of police targeting them during this period.
Who is behind the calls to protest?
The only visible face behind calls for protests on November 11 since they began in late August is Yasser al-Omda, who identified himself as the general coordinator and spokesperson of The Movement of the Poor. Omda has published several videos on the Facebook page for the group, calling on people to come out in what he anticipates will be the beginning of a movement to overthrow the government. He says calls for protest are not affiliated with any political faction but merely represent the poor, calling on political forces to endorse them.
Omda is a co-founder of the Tahrir Revolutionaries Party, which was launched on February 17, 2011, the week after the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. Among other leading figures in the party are journalist Ibrahim al-Darawy, who is currently serving a life sentence in the Hamas espionage case that includes several Muslim Brotherhood leaders, after his arrest in August 2013. The only known activity of the party is its fight against a contract giving an Australian company the right to extract gold from Sokkary mine.
Omda has released a number of political poems over the last few years on his Youtube channel, under the name “Yasser al-Omda, the poet of the revolution.”
The Movement of the Poor led a previous campaign Mesh Dafea (I Won’t Pay), urging citizens to refuse to pay their bills in protest over rising prices.
Some people have accused the state and its media arms of exaggerating the scope of calls for protest on November 11 in order to use it as a pretext for repressive measures. False news has been published linking revolutionary figures such as Mohamed ElBaradei to the calls via a fabricated tweet framing him for calling on citizens to carry arms against the state on the day. Some pro-government talk show hosts have also claimed November 11 is a “satanic plot by the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Political forces distance themselves from calls to protest
Political forces have been largely skeptical about anonymous calls for protest on November 11. Medhat al-Zahed, spokesperson for the Democratic Current, which includes most of Egypt’s major oppositional parties, including the Dostour, Karama and Popular Socialist Coalition parties, issued a statement in October denying any affiliation to the calls to protest, which he said are “suspicious.”
Zahed explains he is skeptical about the calls to protest because of their lack of political backing, and also because they advocate for the overthrow of the government, which he says is unsuitable in the current moment and would be harmful for existing political movements to align themselves with.
Such calls are not legitimate acts of civil disobedience, he claims, as they lack trusted political leadership, a popular support base and a protest movement large enough to form a revolution. He expects the events of the day to be limited to areas and governorates in which the groups behind the calls have a strong presence.
“Resistance tools are not chosen haphazardly, and the severity of the crisis doesn’t necessarily mean most revolutionary methods should be adopted. The call is not rational, and is at odds with the experience of resistance movements. The danger is for this call to be used for fear mongering in order to abort other forms of democratic organization that are possible in light of the current political circumstances,” he says.
Zahed explains that many political forces are opting for resistance methods that are more suitable in the current stifled political atmosphere, such as holding protests with specific and limited demands, supporting unions and releasing statements.
Previous calls for protests since 2013
Since the dispersals of the Rabea al-Adaweya and Nahda Square Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in August 2013 after the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi, there have been several calls for protests to overthrow the government. Such calls have generally resulted in limited participation following preemptive security measures and multiple arrests.
The “Friday of the Typhoon,” was called for on August 30, 2013 by several Islamic forces. Muslim Brotherhood leaders backed the call, asking their supporters to participate and demand the return of the legitimate rule of Morsi, and claiming there would be large crowds present. In the security crackdown that preceded the promised typhoon, authorities shut down Al Jazeera Mubashir Misr channel and arrested a number of Brotherhood leaders the night of August 30. On the day itself, security forces quickly dispersed limited protests in several governorates and seven people died in altercations between security forces and protesters.
A year later, on November 28, another round of calls was made under the slogan, “Uprising of Muslim Youth.” The call was led by the Salafi Front, which said it was aiming to preserve Egypt’s Islamic identity, to boost Sharia law and to overthrow the military government. Some leaders insinuated violence might be used if necessary. Several Salafi Front leaders were arrested in the lead up to November 28. The Ministry of Interior spokesperson at the time, Hany Abdel Latif, said in media statements that police forces would respond to violence with live fire if necessary, that the ministry has developed a comprehensive security plan for the day, and that dozens were arrested in a preemptive strike the day before.
Like the Friday of the Typhoon, the Uprising of Muslim Youth did not live up to its name, and was limited to small protests across the country, which were dispersed by security forces. There were also several small bombs deployed at security points and churches throughout the day.