Egypt sentences Spain-based businessman to life in prison over 2019 protests

Mohammed Ali among 38 who were handed life sentences

Small groups of protesters gather in central Cairo shouting anti-government slogans in Cairo, Egypt September 21, 2019.REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
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An Egyptian court has sentenced a self-exiled Spain-based businessman and 37 others to life in prison for their part in triggering anti-government protests in 2019, state media reported on Monday.

Public protests have been effectively banned in Egypt since 2013.

A series of video and other social media posts by businessman Mohammed Ali, 48, was followed by street protests in September 2019 amid allegations of corruption.

Of the 38 sentenced to life in prison, 23 were tried in absentia, including Ali.

The state security court which tried the case also sentenced 44 other people, including minors, to terms ranging from five to 15 years in prison on the same charges, state media reported.

Twenty-one people were acquitted, according to defence lawyer Ossama Badawi.

The verdicts can be appealed.

Ali, a construction contractor who worked for the military and an aspiring actor, burst on to Egypt's political scene in 2019 when videos he posted on social media accusing President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and the military elite of corruption went viral.

President El Sisi, a former army general, publicly denied the allegations at the time, saying they were designed to undermine the state, crush the will of Egyptians and destroy their faith in his leadership.

He acknowledged, however, that an unspecified number of new presidential palaces were being built as Ali claimed in his videos.

"Yes, I have built presidential palaces and I will build more presidential palaces ... I am building a new nation," he said at the time. "No, I will build, build and build, but not in my name. Nothing is in my name. Everything is in Egypt's name," said the 68-year-old President.

Pro-government media at the time also linked Ali to the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared by authorities as a terrorist organisation.

Ali's posts, filmed in Spain where he has lived for several years, racked up millions of views and briefly sparked small-scale protests in September 2019.

At the time, President El Sisi publicly admonished Egyptians for watching Ali's videos.

Ali has already been placed on Egypt's terrorist blacklist, a move that freezes his assets and bans him from travel.

Egyptian authorities in the run-up to the 2019 protests and in their aftermath have arrested thousands of people, including well-known academics, activists and lawyers, according to rights groups. Many of them were released a short time after, while others faced trial.

Despite a call by the opposition for Egyptians to protest against the country's economic crisis on November 11, the rally went largely unheeded, leading to virtually empty streets in Cairo as residents chose to stay home.

Updated: January 16, 2023, 5:57 PM
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