Tear gas and arrests as Egypt protesters defy ban

Tear gas and arrests as Egypt protesters defy ban
4 min read
25 April, 2016
Dozens of protesters, activists and journalists have been arrested as Egypt's security forces dispersed mass protests across the country.

Anti-Sisi demonstrations

Egyptian police fired tear gas at protesters who defied government warnings and held a rally in Cairo on Monday calling for the "downfall" of the regime. The crowd was swiftly scattered as arrests were made.

A coalition of leftist and liberal groups had called for the protest, ostensibly against the handing over of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

"The level of [government] panic shows that they don't feel secure. And they believe the only option is repression," said Leila Seif, a prominent dissident whose activist son Alaa Abdel Fattah is jailed.

Shortly after she spoke, an armoured police van careered into the square, and an officer fired tear gas after a few protesters hurled rocks at them.

The protesters scattered into side streets. Police chased down people and arrested them, filling three vans with detainees, including several journalists.

Protesters said that foreign journalists as well as local TV crews were among those arrested in the capital.

Police also shut down the Journalists' Syndicate building and blocked several streets in the downtown area near Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Protesters chanted slogans against the military and the regime in defiance of a recently signed maritime demarcation deal that saw Egypt hand two Red Sea islands over to Saudi Arabia.

BBC Cairo correspondent Orla Guerin posted on her Twitter account, meanwhile, that she and her team were stopped by police forces close to Tahrir Square and prevented from filming, hours before the protests were scheduled to start.

Security raids across Cairo began days before the planned protests, with dozens arrested in what appeared to be an attempt to intimidate the public and prevent demonstrations.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned of "firm action" against protesters planning to take part on Monday's demonstrations.

"I see there are people calling once again for damage to [Egypt's] security and stability," noted Sisi, who has launched a thorough crackdown on dissent, in a televised speech on Sunday.

"Our responsibility is to protect security and stability, and I promise Egyptians that no one will terrorise them again," he said.

Egypt's military also said it was deploying forces around "vital targets and major institutions" on the day of the planned protests, adding that security patrols and military police forces would be stationed in major areas nationwide.

In Pictures: Egyptians protest against Saudi islands deal

Condemnation and support

The crackdown on activists, lawyers and journalists in the days leading up to mass protests on Monday has been the focus of local and international condemnation, with calls to hold police and military forces fully responsible for the safety of protesters.

A coalition of 16 local human rights organisations signed a petition calling for the release of those arrested in connection with the planned protests, as well as the protection of the "constitutional right of peaceful protest".

"[The petitioners] have consistently called for the repeal of the protest law and urge the Interior Ministry to cease violating the right of peaceful assembly," they said in a statement.

"They further call on the prosecution to stop using trumped-up charges to harass activist and political dissidents and to cease using pretrial detention as a punitive measure."

Egyptians abroad held small supporting protests in front of Egyptian embassies worldwide in solidarity with the 25 April demonstrations in Egypt.

Read more: Egyptians renew social media calls for protests

Tunisian activists have also released a statement calling for protests in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Tunis to show solidarity with Monday's demonstrations.

"We reject the arrests carried out recently by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi against the Egyptian people in an attempt to thwart the 25 April movement organised by a group of revolutionary forces in Egypt," the statement read.

The Tunisian activists also described the maritime demarcation deal as a "heinous crime" committed by the regime against the Egyptian people.

The settlement of the long-standing maritime dispute over the Red Sea islands has sparked widespread public outrage, with activists arguing that handing over the islands to the Saudis was tantamount to a sell-off to the kingdom.

On 15 April, thousands of Egyptians outraged by the islands deal rallied across the country to call for "the downfall of the regime", in the largest anti-government protests in two years, bringing back memories of the 2011 uprising.

Agencies contributed to this report.