Security forces in Egypt have boosted their presence across the country, sealing off Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the birthplace of a revolution in 2011, amid calls for protests against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi over corruption allegations.
Egypt was rocked by unusual demonstrations on September 20 following calls for protests that were made after allegations of corruption against Sisi and the country’s powerful military were made by the self-exiled contractor and actor Mohamed Ali.
Ali renewed his call for Egyptians to take to the streets on Friday.
Riot police on Friday closed off streets and bridges leading to Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands of protesters had thronged to call for the overthrow of former dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Several metro stations in central Cairo were also closed.
Meanwhile, scores of police forces, some in uniform and others in plain clothes with large guns, gathered near Cairo’s al-Fateh mosque, a starting point for the 2011 protests, as most of the demonstrations took place after the Friday prayers. At least 20 security vehicles were deployed around the mosque or were patrolling nearby.
Police reinforcements were also deployed to main squares in Egypt’s major cities.
Sisi downplays protest calls
Sisi returned to Cairo on Friday morning after participating in the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, and he downplayed the calls for anti-regime protests.
Addressing a crowd of supporters on the roadside, Sisi wondered why they were up so early on the first day of Egypt’s weekend and said, “The situation isn’t worth it. You need to know that the Egyptian people are very aware… Don’t worry about anything.”
He also appeared to reiterate a denial of the corruption accusations.
“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,” Sisi said in a video posted on his official Facebook page.
Since the protests last Friday, Egyptian authorities have arrested nearly 2,000 people, including prominent writers, activists, and opposition figures, according to rights monitors.
Egypt’s public prosecutor said on Thursday that “not more than 1,000” people had been questioned after taking part in demonstrations.
The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists urged the release of those “detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms.” Human Rights Watch has also urged the Egyptian authorities to “protect the right to peaceful protest.”
Sisi has long been facing international condemnation for a crackdown on civil society groups since he took power in 2014, a year after a military coup spearheaded by him toppled the country’s first ever democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi.