by Farid FARID
Viral videos posted online by an Egyptian businessman this month accusing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military of corruption have sparked rare and spontaneous protests opposing his rule, and led to hundreds of arrests.
Mohamed Aly, 45, a fledgling actor alongside his construction business, claimed in his first video on September 2 that Egypt’s military under Sisi’s direction has misspent millions of Egyptian pounds in public funds.
He also alleges the military owes him hundreds of millions of pounds for projects his company Amlaak Group was assigned to build, including palatial residences for Sisi.
Aly — who says he fled to Spain a year ago — has not provided any hard evidence to back up his claims. And Sisi has rejected the allegations as “lies and slander”.
In a fresh one-minute clip on Monday, Aly said he is on the run for his explosive accusations, after pinpointing some locations of the luxurious guesthouses and palaces in Cairo and other Egyptian cities on the Mediterranean.
And he has gradually upped the ante with his videos.
After the small-scale demonstrations erupted at the weekend, he implored Egyptians to join a “million-man march” on Friday to unseat Sisi.
“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.
His 30-minute-long videos viewed and shared by millions mainly on Facebook and Youtube have spurred fierce debate online about the military’s vast economic interests.
The discussion spilled over into rare, scattered protests gathering several hundred people in various cities on Friday and Saturday chanting “Leave Sisi”.
Egypt has effectively banned protests since a law was passed following the military’s ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
But hundreds heeded Aly’s calls to take to the streets after a highly anticipated football derby last Friday between rival Cairo powerhouses Al Ahly and Zamalek.
It took authorities by surprise. Security forces responded firing tear gas and rubber bullets in Suez the following night and arresting over 500 people nation-wide over the last week according to human rights groups.
In almost daily instalments of his videos, Aly appears with his shirt unbuttoned halfway and furiously smoking Marlboro cigarettes mocking Sisi in rambling expletive-filled monologues.
Referring to Sisi in his first video on September 2, he alleged: “You are throwing away billions and your men are wasting millions”.
In a July profile in the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair magazine, the mercurial businessman is described as a “Catalan Pharoah” who came from humble beginnings in Cairo.
Aly divulged ambitious plans to build a university on the Spanish coast in the shape of a glass Pyramid.
In many videos, he says he worked for the Egyptian military for around 15 years. Pictures of completed projects carried out by his firm for the armed forces can be seen on his company’s website.
AFP has repeatedly reached out to Aly’s media representatives in Barcelona, but has not received a reply from him.
The former headquarters of Amlaak Group, a two-storey villa in an upmarket Cairo suburb, was abandoned when AFP inspected earlier this month.
It was cleared out two years ago according to the landlord who said he had limited dealings with Aly.
Amlaak has since been registered as a company in Barcelona in February with a starting capital of 1.25 million euros, according to commercial records online.
Aly’s seemingly lavish lifestyle has triggered questions about his motivation for going after the military.
Earlier this year, he posted a photo of a Ferrari he purchased claiming Barcelona football star Lionel Messi was the previous owner.
Popular pro-Sisi television host Amr Adib lambasted Aly last week showing footage of him allegedly in a drunken stupor.
For decades, Egypt’s military has played a key though opaque economic role, producing everything from washing machines to pasta, alongside building roads and operating gas stations.
But it is difficult to assess the military’s share in the economy and its budget is not allowed to be published.
Since Sisi took the helm as president in 2013, the military’s financial involvement has been more visible amid rising costs and austerity measures imposed in 2016.
In December 2016, Sisi said the military accounts for between 1.5 to 2 percent of the national economy adding that “we would love for it to be 50 percent”.