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Anti-government protesters in Cairo. Photo: Oliver Weiken/picture alliance via Getty Images

Chaotic protests across Egypt this weekend — prompted by videos exposing corruption in President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's military-backed government — underscore the population's weariness with economic hardship due in part to government austerity measures.

Why it matters: While Sisi markets Egypt as an island of stability in a turbulent region, popular dissatisfaction with his regime threatens that image. Whether the protests escalate or fizzle, the country remains a potential powder keg in a highly strategic location: straddling the Suez Canal, flanked by Israel and Libya, and across the Mediterranean from Europe.

Where it stands: Authorities have arrested several hundred protestors so far. Meanwhile, Sisi is in New York for the meeting of the UN General Assembly.

  • While most of this weekend's protests involved no more than a few hundred people each, they are the most significant demonstrations since Sisi took power in a military coup in 2013.

Background: Sisi has ruled with an iron fist, killing several thousand and imprisoning some 60,000.

  • Nearly all political and social movements active before the coup have been crushed, leaving few leaders to formulate coherent protest demands or to negotiate with the military and security apparatus.
  • Sisi has cut government expenditures but failed to empower the private sector to create jobs. And he has prioritized expensive vanity projects, such as a new administrative capital, over core needs like labor force development and water conservation.

Between the lines: While Sisi has sharply increased the military’s share of economic activity and political power, those benefits fall unequally, giving rise to internal power struggles.

  • This has led some Egyptians to speculate that factions within the military or intelligence services may have encouraged releasing evidence of corruption, potentially for their own gain.

The bottom line: While there is no clear path to peaceful change, Sisi’s continued rule promises to drive Egyptians into increasingly desperate circumstances, as well as to increase security headaches for Europe and the U.S., which funds Egypt’s military to the tune of $1.3 billion annually.

Michele Dunne is the director and a senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Go deeper

Biden to sign voting rights order to mark "Bloody Sunday" anniversary

President Biden will sign an executive order today, on the 56th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," meant to promote voting rights, according to an administration official.

Why it matters: The executive order comes as Democrats face an uphill battle to pass a sweeping election bill meant, in part, to combat a growing number of proposals introduced by Republicans at the state level that would restrict voter access.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

In photos: Pope Francis spreads message of peace on first trip to Iraq

Pope Francis waving as he arrives near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul on March 7. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis was on Sunday visiting areas of northern Iraq once held by Islamic State militants.

Why it matters: This is the first-ever papal trip to Iraq. The purpose of Francis' four-day visit is largely intended to reassure the country's Christian minority, who were violently persecuted by ISIS, which controlled the region from 2014-2017.

Cuomo faces fresh misconduct allegations from former aides

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a February press conference in New York City. Photo: Seth Wenig/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was on Saturday facing fresh accusations of misconduct against his staff, including further allegations of inappropriate behavior against two more women. His office denies the claims.

Driving the news: The Washington Post reported Cuomo allegedly embraced an aide when he led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and that two male staffers who worked for him in the governor's office accused him of routinely berating them "with explicit language."