Media blackout?: Major Saudi, UAE news fail to report anti-Sisi, pro-democracy protests in Egypt

Media blackout?: Major Saudi, UAE news fail to report anti-Sisi, pro-democracy protests in Egypt
Sisi allies in the Gulf refused to report protests that erupted across Egypt on Friday, in the latest bid to dismiss the pro-democracy movement in the country.
3 min read
21 September, 2019
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are key backers of Sisi [Getty]
Saudi and Emirati media dismissed anti-Sisi protests in Egypt that called for an end to the military leader's rule on Friday, despite global coverage.

The two Gulf states, both of which key allies of the Sisi regime, failed to report on the events in the country, according to a report published by Arabi21.

Major newspapers, including the UAE’s Al-Ittihad, Emarat Alyoum, Al Bayan, as well as the kingdom’s Okaz, al-Watan, Medina and Riyadh, made no mention of the protests though some reported a football match between Egypt’s Al-Ahli and Zamalek teams.

Even English platforms, including Saudi's Alarabiya and the UAE's Gulf News and The National followed suit, indicating a clear policy toward reporting the events in Egypt.

In 2013, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi backed the coup against Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, extending support in funds and diplomacy to military head Abdelfattah al-Sisi.

Similarly, Egyptian media also ignored the protests, focusing instead on Sisi’s attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York and recent developments in the Gulf region.

Angry demonstrations erupted in the vicinity of Tahrir Square in the heart of the Egyptian capital on Friday evening before the contagion of protests spread to a number of governorates, and hundreds of demonstrations took place in major squares in Alexandria and Suez. 

Video clips on social media showed that the chants were loudly demanding the overthrow of the regime and the departure of Sisi.

In scenes reminiscent of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, protesters were filmed ripping down a banner displaying the image of the Egyptian President in Mansoura, before stamping on the poster. 

The demonstration came in response to calls for protests by a self-exiled Egyptian businessman who recently claimed large-scale corruption by the military and government.

Security forces attempted to break up the gathering in Cairo, with skirmishes taking place between police and protesters in the roads leading up to Tahrir Square.

Tear gas was deployed by police in the roads leading to the square to disperse protesters who were chanting anti-Sisi slogans, according to The New Arab's Arabic-language service.

A number of protesters were also arrested on by police, who reportedly bundled them into vans. Security forces were reportedly able to close all entrance points to Tahrir Square by 9:30pm local time.

Police sources said "dozens" of young men were arrested for their participation in the protests. Egypt outlawed all unauthorised protests in 2013 when Sisi, as defence minister, led the military's overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president amid mass protests against his brief rule.

Friday's unrest followed a call to action by real estate developer Mohamed Ali - an army-linked contractor who has released dozens of videos levelling serious accusations of corruption and embezzlement against Sisi and senior Egyptian officials.

Egyptians voicing upset over the claims that Sisi had used government funds to build several luxurious residences for himself caused the hashtag #ThatsEnoughSisi to skyrocket in popularity, garnering more than a million tweets in its first 24 hours.

By late on Friday, the Arabic-language hashtags #Tahrir Square and #SisiGo were among the top four popular trends worldwide on Twitter.

In a YouTube video posted early on Saturday in Egypt, Ali called on Defence Minister Mohamed Zaki to arrest the president, who is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly.

"Please, your honor, issue an order to arrest Mr. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi... I hope that you side with the Egyptian people," Ali said in the video addressing the defence minister.

Calls for Egyptians to take to the streets reportedly caused fear within Sisi's regime, which has kept a tight lid on demonstrations since its troops killed more than 1,000 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in the 2013 Rabaa massacre.

Meanwhille, Sisi reportedly considered cancelling the New York trip over fears that unrest would spill over in his absence, according to government sources.

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