CAIRO    -  Hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets in Cairo and other cities in rare protests against the country’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, responding to an online call for a demonstration against government corruption.

Videos shared on social media showed protesters in central Cairo as well as the port cities of Alexandria and Suez, demanding that Sisi leave office. Protests also occurred in the towns of Damietta, Damanhur and Mahalla. Demonstrations are all but illegal in Egypt after a broad crackdown on dissent under Sisi, who seized power following the overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Sisi’s rule has been marked by the repression of political opposition, civil society and any perceived criticism. Those taking to the streets risked arrest as well as the lingering threat of force by the Egyptian authorities. Security forces moved to disperse the small and scattered crowds in Cairo late on Friday using teargas but many young people stayed on the streets in the centre of the capital.

At least 55 people were arrested on the charge of demonstrating without permission, according to one local media outlet citing Egypt’s ministry of the interior. The Cairo-based Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights recorded at least 56 arrests in Cairo and outside of the capital. The number of those arrested is expected to rise.

There was a heavy security presence in central Cairo and on Tahrir Square, where mass protests that toppled veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak started in 2011. Authorities could not be immediately reached to comment. State TV did not cover the incidents.

A pro-government TV anchor said only a small group of protesters had gathered in central Cairo to take videos and selfies before leaving the scene. Another pro-government channel said the situation around Tahrir Square was quiet. Mohamed Ali, a building contractor and actor turned political activist who lives in Spain, called for the protest in a series of videos after accusing Sisi and the military of corruption.

Last Saturday, Sisi dismissed the claims as “lies and slander”.

Sisi was first elected in 2014 with 97% of the vote, and re-elected four years later with the same percentage, in a vote in which the only other candidate was an ardent Sisi supporter. His popularity has been dented by economic austerity measures. Sisi’s supporters say dissent must be quashed to stabilise Egypt, after the 2011 uprising and the unrest that followed, including an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai peninsula that has killed hundreds of police, soldiers and civilians. They also credit him with economic reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund.