NEW YORK, NEW YORK — As Egypt’s president, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was giving remarks at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the Egyptian diaspora was having its say on the streets on New York.
“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Al-Sisi must go!” they screamed, marching before a stream of baffled tourists and jaded New Yorkers on the tony Madison Avenue.
“We’re here because Sisi is going to be at the United Nations today, and we are here to tell everybody, to tell all the leaders here, that this guy is not welcome at the U.N., not welcome in the United States,” said Saeed el-Adl.
“We’re doing this because he is a killer…The U.S. supports him because he serves their needs in the Middle East. They use him,” said el-Adl.
They held yellow flags featuring a hand holding up four fingers — the Rabaa or R4BIA sign) — the symbol of opposition to what Sisi’s detractors call his illegitimate coup in 2013, when he ousted elected present Mohamed Morsi, locking him up.
Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood party’s candidate and the democratically elected president in Egypt after the 2011 revolution put an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade-long military reign.
In protests, thousands of Morsi’s supporters staged two massive sit-ins in the capital of Cairo. There, on Aug. 14, 2013, in a campaign of staggering, unbridled violence, security forces cleared the demonstrations, including one held at a square called Rabaa al-Adawiyyah. Thousands were killed and arrested and an election shortly thereafter cemented Sisi’s role as president.
Since then, there have been many crackdowns on media and civil society, with the Muslim Brotherhood still being declared a terrorist group, its leaders locked up and its assets frozen.
“The U.N. should not welcome a murderer, a killer,” said Mahmoud el-Sayed.
“We’ve been protesting for five years. Since that coup, thousands of Egyptians have been locked up in jails…There’s no freedom of press or speech in Egypt,” said Sayed, adding that the protest isn’t “because we voted for the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s because we voted against the military.”
But the Egyptian president has his supporters too. Carrying a boombox blasting Egyptian dance tunes, a group of pro-Sisi Egyptian-Americans came shimmying across the avenue, waiving their national flags and wearing t-shirts featuring Sisi’s face.
“We are here to support him, to show that we are behind him — we’re all behind Egypt,” said Noha Adly, one of a couple dozen people who were markedly more cheery than the anti-Sisi crowd.
On this side of the street, Sisi’s legitimacy was not being called into question.
“We all want him. He’s made improvements in the country…Life is getting better over there. I know we’re having a tough time, all the Egyptians are having a tough time, but it’s going to get better,” she said.
As the pro-Sisi camp danced and waved their flags on the corner, Adly declared, “God bless Egypt! God Bless America!”