As world leaders convened in New York for the 71st United Nations General Assembly, Egyptian and Senegalese expatriates used the opportunity to voice their displeasure at their countries’ presidents, who both addressed the General Assembly on Tuesday.
Egyptian demonstrators told our correspondent that the group was protesting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for leading the 2013 coup that deposed President Mohammed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt, and the ensuing human rights violations perpetrated by his government.
“We’re here today voicing our opposition to the actions and the legitimacy of the Egyptian government,” said Omar Abouelkhair, an Egyptian and New Jersey local.
“The Egyptian military overthrew the first democratically elected president and government in Egyptian history. Ever since then, they’ve been cracking down on everybody who voices any kind of concern or opposition to their policies,” he explained, adding that the Sisi government tortures, executes, and ‘disappears’ political prisoners.
“It was a free, fair election, and that [Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood] is the government that the people chose,” Mr. Abouelkhair said, adding that opponents of Mr. Morsi should have challenged him at the polls rather than resorting to a military coup.
Hani, an Egyptian national residing in Queens, New York, helped organize the protest, bringing together Egyptians from the greater New York area.
“He was the leader of the military coup. He killed at least one thousand men in twelve hours,” Hani said, referencing the August 14, 2013 Rabaa massacre. “So we’re here protesting against him because we support freedom.”
Hani challenged the UN to listen to Human Rights Watch, who helped expose the Rabaa massacre, to understand Mr. Sisi’s disregard for human rights.
“We also want to say ‘shame’ to the United Nations, for letting [Mr. Sisi] inside the United Nations, for letting him speak. How come? They support democracy, they support human rights, how can they let him speak?” he said.
On the other side of the plaza, pro-Sisi counter-protesters sang praises of their leader, waving Egyptian flags and portraits of Mr. Sisi.
When asked about the Sisi loyalists, Hani laughed, saying that they were all flown in from Egypt by the government. While our correspondent could not secure an interview with a counter-protester to confirm this, he observed that men in suits were standing among the protesters, giving them flags and balloons.
Between the two Egyptian factions was a small group of protesters donning red caps who told our correspondent that they had gathered to protest Senegalese President Macky Sall, who they said was attempting to dismantle democracy in Senegal.
“Senegal is a democratic country. [Mr. Sall] talked like a democrat, but when he came to power, he started to govern like a dictator," said Tekhe Gaye, a Senegalese journalist who runs Boppukogne Radio.
Mr. Gaye explained that shortly after discovering new oil and gas in Senegal, Mr. Sall awarded two lucrative oil licenses to his brother.
“But the worst thing he is starting to do in the country is what we call ethnic favoritism,” he continued. “He is using people from his ethnic group to fulfill every position in our administration. If he continues to do that, there will be civil war in the country,” Mr. Gaye warned.
He said that Senegal is a peaceful, united country with a rich history of democracy, but he fears that this peace, democracy, and unity may cease to thrive in Senegal should Mr. Sall continue his policies of ethnic favoritism and nepotism.