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Mohamed Ali: 'We're holding a referendum'

Egyptian dissident and whistleblower says he is working on an alternative plan for Egypt's future that could lead to Sisi's ousting
Former Egyptian businessman and actor Mohamed Ali went into self-imposed exile last year (MEE)

Egyptian dissident and whistleblower Mohamed Ali has announced that he is working with opposition politicians in exile to draft an alternative plan for Egypt's future, with the aim of pressuring President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to step down. 

Ali said Egyptians both inside and outside of the country would be able to vote in an online referendum on the proposal, which he said he plans to unveil within the next two months.

"I have united a large group of Egypt's civil society, as well as the opposition. We're currently working on a plan to fix Egypt's problems, which we will unveil for everyone to see very soon," Ali said.

The former businessman and actor made the initiative public during a conference in London on Wednesday, his first public appearance since he left Egypt last year and went into self-imposed exile. 

Among other things, the proposal would outline a plan to save the country's collapsing economy, as well as form a new government structure, he told Middle East Eye.

"We have to be clear. We have to be fair. The Egyptian people need to see a way forward first," he said.

Ali added that he and others involved in drafting the proposal have approached several organisations abroad, as well as relevant experts, about overseeing the voting process.

That would ensure the safety and anonymity of Egyptians who take part, he said, without going into detail about what organisations or experts were approached. 

"All of this is so that the entire process is fair and transparent, and so we don't end up getting accused of fabricating votes," he said.

Corruption

For 15 years, Ali worked on secret construction projects linked to Egypt's military and to Sisi himself, before abruptly leaving the country with a plan to go public with the corruption he saw.

On 2 September, the whistleblower began uploading daily videos describing a number of palaces, hotels and country clubs his company built for Sisi, the president's family, and the generals presiding over the military's lucrative institutions.

His videos ignited a wave of anti-Sisi protests later that same month, the first significant demonstrations since the general took power in a coup in 2013.

EXCLUSIVE: Mohamed Ali spills secrets to Middle East Eye
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In response, the Egyptian authorities launched a sweeping wave of arrests across the country, rounding up close to 3,000 activists, lawyers and political figures.

Many of those arrested were charged with plotting to damage the state, and joining the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, from which Sisi's predecessor Mohamed Morsi hailed.

Checkpoints were also set up along major streets in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, and police officers were reported to have searched peoples' phones for political content and arrested anyone deemed suspicious.

Ali's videos also built momentum among several exiled political opposition figures, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Ayman Nour, a former parliamentarian and founder of the El Ghad party, who fled Egypt in 2013 and now resides in Istanbul.

Last month, Ali told MEE in an exclusive interview that he was in contact with all the major Egyptian opposition groups, and that they backed his work on an alternative plan for Egypt.

"Any successful country in the world is built on the work and knowledge of experts. We have been reaching out to Egyptian experts in many fields from around the world. They are the ones helping to put together this proposal, whether in the field of science, medicine, engineering or media," he said.

Ali declined to say what specific list of people were working on his new proposal, but he mentioned one name: Mohamed Hafez, a hydroelectric engineering professor at Malaysia's Uniten institute, who could be focusing on issues relating to Egypt's current water shortage and the controversial Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia.

At the news conference on Wednesday, the former contractor warned that the mishandling of the dam dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia could lead to a wave of Egyptians fleeing to Europe.

"Once people get thirsty their first destination will be Europe," Ali said.

"This means that the existence of the current Egyptian regime is both a threat to Egyptians and to the regional interests of Europe."

'Go back out and protest'

According to Ali, he isn't closely involved in the technical aspects of the referendum proposal. The whistleblower told MEE he was more of a spokesman, whose job it is to urge Egyptians to participate in the online referendum.

The move echoes one carried out in 2013 by Egyptian anti-Muslim Brotherhood activists, known as the Tamarod Movement.

That movement's organisers said they had collected more than 20 million signatures on a petition calling for early elections and for then-president Morsi to resign.

It was a significant factor leading to Morsi's eventual ousting by the military on 3 July 2013.

But Ali said his plan was nothing like Tamarod.

'People need to see what will happen once we remove Sisi from office, what kind of government we will have, how it will be run. And from there, they can figure out if they want Sisi to stay or to go'

- Mohamed Ali

"Tamarod was a scam on the Egyptian people, it wasn't real. When we come to do a referendum, it won't be a piece of paper with 'yes' or 'no'. We're going to present a programme that people can see first and then decide."

Ali said the Tamarod petition left all the power in Sisi's hands, and as a result the president has been running the country without any checks and balances.

"People need to see what will happen once we remove Sisi from office, what kind of government we will have, how it will be run. And from there, they can figure out if they want Sisi to stay or to go." 

Once that had been achieved, and a significant number of Egyptians agreed on the plan, Ali said he and other opposition figures plan to call for a revolution against Sisi.

"This is very important, so that people will be encouraged to go back out and protest, knowing what will happen next," he said.

MEE reached out to the Egyptian embassy in London on Tuesday for comment on Ali's initiative, but has not yet received a response.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.