Former military insider tries to rally Egypt’s opposition
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A self-exiled businessman who claims to know the secrets of Egypt’s ruling military says he is marshaling political groups to try to topple President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, despite the opposition movement’s increasingly bleak prospects.
Mohamed Ali, 45, pitches himself as a former government insider. Without offering evidence, he says he’s witnessed high-level corruption and large-scale misuse of funds as a construction contractor for the military.
His allegations, recorded in a series of viral videos made in Spain, managed to ignite rare protests in September against el-Sissi. The government swiftly stamped out the scattered demonstrations, arresting thousands of suspected dissidents across the country.
Now Ali is on a media blitz, seeking to inject momentum into his cause.
“All of the opposition groups outside of Egypt are now agreeing with me. This is the first time this has happened under el-Sissi’s rule,” Ali told The Associated Press in an unadorned office outside of Barcelona, surrounded by camera crews for a possible documentary and sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea.
He claimed to be communicating with an array of liberals, leftists and Islamists outside Egypt to oppose el-Sissi’s government.
“I told them (the Muslim Brotherhood) that we have to close ranks,” he said, referring to the Islamist political organization now outlawed in Egypt.
While in Spain, where he has relocated, Ali said he was approached by the Brotherhood, which had taken offense to one of his videos accusing their elected but divisive president, Mohammed Morsi, of mismanaging the country during his brief rule.
“I told them that we want Egypt to be like Europe,” he said. “They said we agree with you, we also want Egypt to move forward.”
Over 15 years of work with the military, Ali says his company routinely paid bribes to the military’s business arm, the so-called Engineering Authority, to secure countless contracts for lucrative projects, such as the building of presidential palaces and luxury hotels.
His rants against the regime, streamed over social media, infuriated many poor and middle-class Egyptians who have been squeezed by years of austerity measures.
Still, Ali has not provided proof of his contracts, saying that police seized his company’s documents during a raid on his office after he came forward with the allegations.
El-Sissi, who has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since coming to power in 2013, was compelled to publicly respond. He dismissed Ali’s claims as “sheer lies and defamation,” but did not deny the military’s dealings with Ali’s company.
“I’ve built palaces and will continue to do so ... I am building a new country,” he said in televised comments.
Ali said that his new role as public dissident has caused an irreparable rift with his pro-government family. Since releasing the videos, he says he hasn’t spoken to his father, a retired army commander, who went on a pro-Sissi TV channel to distance himself from Ali and accuse his son of owing the military money, instead of the other way around.
Other details of Ali’s life remain hazy, including why he waited years to come forward with the accusations.
“When I started working with the military, I felt that I’d fulfilled my dream of working with the most respected institution,” he said. But soon, “I figured out that these people who ruled the country are corrupt ... I couldn’t be silent.”