Mohamed Ali: The businessman-turned-actor who called for Egypt protests

Mohamed Ali: The businessman-turned-actor who called for Egypt protests
Videos of Mohamed Ali, a military contractor, gripped Egypt before Friday's huge protests.
3 min read
21 September, 2019
Mohamed Ali has accused Sisi and his regime of corruption [Screenshot]
Over the past month, Egypt has been gripped by the almost daily videos released by an exiled Egyptian businessman-turned-actor, detailing cases of alleged corruption in President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's regime.

Released on YouTube and Facebook, the short clips feature Mohammed Ali speaking to the camera and revealing specific cases of graft and waste in the Egyptian establishment, which he says goes right to the top with Sisi himself.

Military on defensive

Sisi has strongly rejected the claims, but analysts believe that the series of videos released by Ali have spooked the regime, as Egyptians grow increasingly tired and angry from years of punishing austerity measures and a suffocating atmosphere of government oppression.

On Friday, with Sisi out of the country for next week's UN General Assembly meeting, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets

With the hashtag in Arabic "#ThePeopleDemandTheFallofTheRegime" - the call of the masses during the 2011 Arab Spring - trending on Twitter on Friday, the evening saw thousands gathering in cities across the country to voice their anger at Sisi's government.

Ali, now based in Spain in self-imposed exile, worked as a military contractor for 15 years, where he dealt with high-ranking generals, who dominate the political and economic leadership of Egypt.

In his videos, Ali says he is owed millions of dollars for non-payment from the military and that construction companies are expected to begin work without payment for government projects. 

He also claimed that Sisi, his wife, and top-ranking Egyptian officials have squandered millions of dollars with expensive projects, such as a series of palaces for Sisi.

Vanity projects

The allegations of rampant vanity projects being built for Sisi while millions of Egyptians live in dire poverty have evidently rankled the regime, sensitive to Ali's depictions of the leaderships' opulence during dire economic times.

While not directly addressing the charges, the president has appeared on television defending himself and the army, saying he will continue with his palace-building programme - which he insists are for the country and not himself. 

"I am building a new country. ... All of this is not mine. It's Egypt's," he said on TV.

But with the president eradicating all opposition and organising sham elections, few believe that anyone but Sisi will be able to enjoy these luxuries.

Government supporters have tried to dismiss Ali as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the contractor has made videos strongly denying these claims.

Sam Hamad, an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer, says that most Egyptians have suffered financial hardship under Sisi and likely believed that corruption was taking place in the regime.

But the fact that Ali is essentially an establishment figure-turned-informer makes his claims more credible to most Egyptians, something that could give his act of rebellion added poignancy.

"He's not some exiled opposition figure, he's not some dreaded 'Islamist', but is a regime insider, essentially," Hamad told The New Arab.

"He's given the specific details to the vague realities we've always known -he showing the huge extent of corruption, including the personal corruption of Sisi and his family, within the kleptocracy."

This week, Ali made another video demanding the overthrow of Sisi. 

"If el-Sisi does not announce his resignation by Thursday, then the Egyptian people will come out to the squares on Friday in protest," he said in the video, according to Al Jazeera.

With angry protests taking place on the streets of Cairo on Friday, it appeared thousands had heeded this call.