Egypt’s president told supporters not to worry about further protests calls against his rule as security forces tightened control in the capital and closed off entrances to Tahrir Square.
Protests broke out on September 20 in Cairo and other cities following online calls for demonstrations against alleged corruption by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military.
Sisi returned to Cairo on Friday and was greeted by religious dignitaries and a crowd of supporters.
Asking why they were up so early on the first day of Egypt’s weekend, he said: “The situation isn’t worth it. You need to know the Egyptian people are aware… Don’t worry about anything.”
Sisi appeared to repeat an earlier rejection of allegations of corruption posted online by Mohamed Ali, a former contractor and actor, in the run-up to the protests. Ali’s videos have attracted a wide following.
“This is an image being painted as was done before, comprised of lies and defamation and some media working to present an image that isn’t true. We’re really strong, the country is really strong with you,” he said in a video on his official Facebook page.
Since last weekend’s protests, authorities carried out mass arrests rights monitors say has seen at least 1 900 people detained. Egypt’s public prosecutor said “not more than 1,000” were questioned after protests.
Ali called for new protests with government supporters also planning rallies to show backing for Sisi.
HEAVY POLICE PRESENCE
The protests unnerved investors and led to a pro-Sisi campaign in Egypt’s strictly controlled media.
Security forces stepped up their presence in main squares in major cities and are checking mobile phones for political content.
On Friday morning, roads leading to Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the epicentre of protests that led to the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, were closed to traffic. There was a heavy police presence around the square and at junctions in the city centre.
Sisi came to power after leading the overthrow of Islamist former President Mohamed Mursi in 2013 following protests against Mursi’s rule.
Sisi said at some point he would request a show of mass support in which Egyptians would “go out in their millions”.
Sisi has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent that extended to liberal as well as Islamist groups and which rights groups say is the most severe in recent memory.
Several hundred detained in the past week are under investigation for charges including using social media to spread false news, undermining national security, joining a banned terrorist group and protesting without a permit, defence lawyers say.