Security forces in Egypt have clashed with hundreds of protesters in the port city of Suez, according to media reports, firing tear gas and live rounds to disperse crowds calling for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to quit.
The unrest on Saturday came a day after thousands of people took to the streets in several Egyptian cities in a rare show of dissent against el-Sisi, who has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent including the jailing of thousands of dissidents and the effective banning of protests.
A protester in Suez told the AFP news agency about 200 people headed to the city’s central area for a second night in a row, where they were met by security forces and armoured vehicles.
“They [security force] fired tear gas, rubber and live bullets and there were injuries”, the man who declined to be named told the AFP.
Another resident, who also preferred to remain anonymous, said the tear gas was so thick it had reached her apartment block a few kilometres away.
“My nose started burning up. The smell was seeping through the balcony. I also saw some youth run and hide in our street”, the woman said.
Protests were also reported in Giza, the capital Cairo’s twin city, and in the northern town of Mahalla. Al Jazeera is banned from reporting inside Egypt.
Meanwhile, a heavy security presence was maintained in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Egypt‘s 2011 revolution that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt’s stock exchange also suspended trading for 30 minutes on Sunday after the EGX 100 index fell by 5%, bourse data showed.
Analysts linked the sharp drop in share prices to small protests that broke out in Cairo and other cities on Friday, reported Reuters.
It was the first time the exchange had suspended trading in the EGX 100 because of a 5% swing since 2016.
Egyptians in US
Videos on social media showed dozens of Egyptians demonstrating in front of el-Sisi’s residence in New York, where he is scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly this week.
The anti-Sisi demonstrations were met with tens of his supporters also staging a demonstration to chant slogans praising his achievements.
The Egyptian diaspora in Washington, DC also staged a vigil in front of the White House to denounce el-Sisi. The protesters called on US President Donald Trump to end his support for el-Sisi and demanded that el-Sisi leave the US.
The AFP, citing an unnamed security source, said at least 74 people had been arrested on Friday in the capital after clashes between police and protesters, who had marched through the streets of Cairo, chanting slogans including “Leave, Sisi!” and demanding the “fall of the regime”.
The Human Rights Watch rights group has called for their immediate release. The Egyptian government is yet to comment.
The demonstrations were in response to an online call by an exiled Egyptian businessman, Mohamed Ali, who has accused el-Sisi and his aides of squandering public funds on vanity projects.
El-Sisi led the military removal of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and won back-to-back landslide elections after running virtually unopposed. But his popularity has been dented amid discontent over rising prices.
El-Sisi’s government has imposed strict austerity measures in Egypt since 2016 as part of a $12bn loan package from the International Monetary Fund. Meanwhile, nearly one in three Egyptians live below the poverty line on less than $1.40 a day, according to official figures released in July. Other estimates put the figure higher.
Ali, a construction contractor, upped the pressure on Saturday in an expletive-filled video, imploring Egyptians to join a “million-man march” next Friday and to fill all “major squares” of the country.
“This is a people’s revolution … We have to link up together as one … and organise going down to the major squares,” he said in a Facebook appeal to his followers.
El-Sisi denied the corruption allegations last week, telling a youth conference he was “honest and faithful” to his people and the military.
Mohamad Elmasry, chair of the media and journalism programme at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told Al Jazeera that the popularity of Ali’s videos and the protests they sparked posed a “legitimate threat” to el-Sisi.
“Millions of people have watched his videos, while his anti-Sisi hashtags have gone viral,” Elmasry told Al Jazeera. “This is something that is a legitimate threat to the el-Sisi government – if it wasn’t a legitimate threat, then el-Sisi wouldn’t have come out and responded directly to Mohamed Ali at last week’s youth conference,” said Elmasry, adding it was “unprecedented” for el-Sisi “to be put on the defensive like that inside Egypt by an Egyptian”.
Nael Shama, a Cairo-based political analyst, agreed.
“No one shouted bread, freedom, social justice like in 2011, they escalated straight to ‘Leave’ from the first minute,” she told AFP news agency, adding: “This is the first time people take to the streets in many years but I am not sure it will be the last.”
Meanwhile, the government’s foreign media accreditation body released a statement late on Saturday cautioning international journalists that their reporting of events “should not be exaggerated”, without explicitly mentioning the protests.
On Friday night, pro-Sisi television host Amr Adib lambasted Ali, the businessman, showing footage of him allegedly in a drunken stupor.
Adib urged his fellow countrymen to “take care of the country … because the Muslim Brotherhood want to raze it to the ground”.
The Islamist group, once considered one of Egypt’s most organised political forces, was outlawed as a “terror” group in 2013 after the military’s overthrow of Morsi.