CAIRO — Scattered protests calling for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to step down broke out in multiple cities across Egypt on Friday afternoon,...

CAIRO — Scattered protests calling for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to step down broke out in multiple cities across Egypt on Friday afternoon, marking the second Friday in a row of rare demonstrations challenging his authoritarian rule.

A protest in the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Warraq, an island in the Nile, grew as neighborhood residents poured out of mosques after midday prayers, according to live videos posted on Facebook and a local journalist and activist who had spoken to protesters there.

“No matter how, we’ll bring Sisi down,” the crowds chanted.

Live videos posted on Facebook also purported to show a march in Qena, a city in southern Egypt.

Given the risks of dissent in Egypt, where Mr. el-Sisi has jailed thousands of political opponents and controls politics and most of the press, the protests — though small — represent a stunning challenge to his authority.

The government moved swiftly this week to try to prevent a repeat of last week’s protest, arresting more than 2,000 Egyptians, packing Cairo neighborhoods with security personnel, blocking or restricting popular web services and blaming the unrest on Islamists and outside agitators.

ImagePresident Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who was at the United Nations this week, returned to Cairo on Friday. His government has arrested more than 2,000 people since last week’s protest.
CreditJustin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

On Friday, Mr. el-Sisi, who landed in Cairo Friday morning after a weeklong trip to the United Nations, appeared to be taking no chances.

Downtown Cairo, where some of last week’s protesters had converged, was nearly deserted apart from the policemen, special security forces and plainclothes informers who guarded major streets and squares, sometimes stopping vehicles and passers-by.

Tahrir Square, the scene of mass protests in 2011 and 2013 that brought down two of Mr. el-Sisi’s predecessors, was closed to traffic, along with roads and a bridge in the area. Cafes and stores in the normally busy shopping districts downtown were locked shut.

Wael Tawfik, a local journalist who had spoken to protesters in Warraq, said he had been told the crowds there numbered in the thousands. The marchers had tried to move toward a bridge leading to downtown Cairo, he said, only to be met by security personnel firing tear gas and birdshot.

A Facebook page for Warraq residents reported that the police had also used rubber bullets.

Mr. Tawfik said he had also witnessed about 70 people trying to gather in the city of Giza, across the Nile from Cairo, on Friday afternoon, but security forces dispersed the group as it tried to reach Giza Square.

On the other side of Cairo, in Nasr City, a crowd of Sisi supporters rallied in a counterprotest organized by the authorities. State television channels showed them waving Egyptian flags, holding up portraits of the president and chanting, “Long live Egypt.”


CreditKhaled Elfiqi/EPA, via Shutterstock

State media reported that Mr. el-Sisi had been greeted at the airport by a contingent of supporters on Friday morning.

Egyptians are “more aware of how the picture is being formed to fabricate reality and fool people,” he said at the airport, according to a video posted on his official Facebook page. “Don’t worry about anything. Don’t be worried.”

Egyptian media has condemned the protests this week, with one newscaster on Friday referring to those who support the protesters as “the forces of evil.”

The original protests stemmed from a call to rise up issued by Mohamed Ali, a military construction contractor living in exile in Spain. He has been accusing Mr. el-Sisi of corruption and hypocrisy in a series of widely watched videos.

Mr. Ali urged his viewers this week to go out again on Friday, but it remained unclear on Friday afternoon how many Egyptians would respond.

At least 2,075 Egyptians have been arrested in the crackdown during and after the protests last Friday, according to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, a monitoring group.

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