Several hundred arrests amid protest calls in Egypt – rights group


Egyptian authorities have detained at least 382 people since 20 September amid reports of small, scattered demonstrations against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a rights group said on Monday.

The interior ministry could not be reached for comment.

The arrests come after security measures were tightened around the first anniversary of rare demonstrations in Cairo and other cities, triggered by appeals in September last year from an exiled former contractor and actor, Mohamed Ali.

Ali, who had posted videos online lambasting the authorities, called for more protests this month.

Videos posted on social media since 20 September appeared to show several very small demonstrations involving up to several dozen people in different parts of the country.

Reuters could not independently verify the videos, but security sources confirmed some small and scattered protests on Friday, which they said were mainly in villages and outside big cities.

In one case, a witness said about 100 men had gathered in an area outside the city of Damietta and chanted “Leave, Sisi”.

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms said it had directly documented 249 detentions over the past nine days, while it said another 133 had been documented by other rights groups or lawyers.

The public prosecutor’s office said on Sunday it had ordered the release of 68 minors detained for their alleged participation in “recent riots”. It did not mention other arrests.

Security forces can be seen deployed in public spaces especially on Fridays, and there have been increased security checks.

The protests are partly fuelled by economic frustrations made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, and by a major government campaign to impose fines or demolitions on unlicensed housing, activists say.

In an apparent reference to the protests, Sisi praised Egyptians for enduring tough economic conditions on Sunday and said some were trying to exploit Egypt’s challenges to undermine the country but would not succeed.

“They choose the difficult conditions to offend and sow suspicion among Egyptians about what we are doing – that this is at their expense and against them,” Sisi said during the inauguration of a petrochemical plant.

“The people and the state are one entity. Nobody intervenes between us and nobody will be able to intervene between us.”

Since his election in 2014 Sisi has overseen a broad crackdown on political dissent, which was extended with a wave of arrests after the protests last September.

Sisi says the government is looking after human rights by working to provide basic needs such as jobs and housing.

At the inauguration, a video on human rights was played that said the “safety and stability” of Egypt was one of the most important rights of its people.