Egypt arrests dozens ahead of protests against president

AP News
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Posted: Apr 22, 2016 11:02 AM

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian security forces have rounded up dozens of activists, journalists, and lawyers ahead of demonstrations called for April 25 against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's policies, including the transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, lawyers and witnesses said Friday.

Rights lawyer Ahmed Abdel-Naby said that dozens were arrested in cafes in downtown Cairo and from their homes. Ragia Omran, another rights lawyer, said in a statement that there is an "organized campaign" targeting activists in Cairo and several provinces. The lawyers said the whereabouts of those arrested remained unknown as police deny the arrests.

A youth group called Revolutionary Socialists says a top member, Haitham Muhammadeen, was arrested when security forces raided his home late Thursday.

Mahmoud el-Sakka, a young journalist, wrote on his Facebook page that special forces raided his home and told his family he is a wanted man, threatening more raids unless he turns himself in.

"We are not afraid even if they snatch our souls," he said. "This is only because we are saying we will not put our land up for sale."

The Interior Ministry's spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. Rights groups took to the social media to circulate hotlines for legal assistance. Activists posted instructions on deleting social networking accounts from mobile phones to ensure online safety and privacy.

The arrests come more than a week after thousands demonstrated against el-Sissi, chanting "leave" and denouncing what they see as autocratic policies, including the transfer of the islands. The protests were among the largest since el-Sissi assumed office in 2014, and featured slogans used in the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

The protesters, including politicians and activists, called for more demonstrations on April 25, a national holiday that commemorates the withdrawal of the last Israeli troops from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982 under the Camp David peace agreement.

The decision to transfer the two islands, which was concluded in secret and announced earlier this month during a visit by Saudi King Salman, has infuriated many Egyptians, who have accused the government of trading land for aid and investment from the oil-rich kingdom. The government insists the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, always belonged to Saudi Arabia but were placed under Egyptian protection in 1950 because Riyadh feared they would be attacked by Israel.

The demonstrations appear to have alarmed the government of el-Sissi, who as military chief led the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013 amid mass protests against his rule. The government has since waged a sweeping crackdown on Islamists and other dissidents, jailing thousands and outlawing unauthorized protests.

In recent days, el-Sissi has warned of plots aimed at "toppling down the state from the inside."

The daily Al-Shorouk published a report on Thursday quoting an unnamed official as saying that el-Sissi ordered authorities to prevent the April 25 protests. The newspaper pulled the report after the presidency issued a denial and warned the press against publishing false news.