Egypt braced for protests as President Sisi urges citizens to 'defend' state from ‘forces of evil’

Leader under fire for agreeing to hand over sovereignty of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia

Kayleigh Lewis
Monday 25 April 2016 12:17
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Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has come under fire in recent months
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has come under fire in recent months

Egypt's President has called on citizens to protect the state and its institutions from “forces of evil” ahead of planned protests across the country.

The policies of Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s government have been the source of increasing discontent in recent weeks with many Egyptians especially critical of the decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The transfer of sovereignty over the islands was agreed in a secret deal, and announced during a visit from King Salman earlier in April.

In a televised speech on Sunday, Mr Sisi stressed the need for stability and urged Egypt to stand united. He said attempts to degrade the Arab nation “won’t be successful”.

“We must protect these institutions because these mean the state. I am reiterating to the Egyptian people this is the responsibility of all of us, for us to protect this security and stability,” he said.

Protests are essentially banned in Egypt, with organisers required to notify police three days prior to a demonstration and provide personal details and demands. The country’s Special Forces have the right to ban or postpone such action if they feel public order is at risk.

Nonetheless, Egypt has recently seen its biggest demonstrations since Mr el-Sisi took office in 2014, with thousands taking to the streets to call for his resignation and criticise his policies.

In particular, the government is accused of trading the two Red Sea islands for aid and investment from Saudi Arabia. The islands – Tiran and Sanafir – are strategically important as they are located at the entrance of the Straits of Tiran. The straits, which lead to the Gulf of Aqaba, provide Israel’s only access to the Red Sea.

However, officials insist the islands always belonged to Saudi Arabia but were placed under Egyptian protection in 1950 for fear they would be attacked by Israel.

Planned protests – called for by politicians and activists - come as the President also faces criticism over the ailing economy, a resilient insurgency by Islamic militants in Sinai and the fallout from the abduction, torture and killing of an Italian doctoral student in Cairo.

The demonstrations will coincide with a national holiday commemorating the withdrawal of the last Israeli troops from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982 under the Camp David peace agreement.

The Strong Egypt Party, founded by Abdel Moneim Abouel Fottouh, the former leader of Muslim Brotherhood, pledged its support for the protests and urged others to join them in a statement published on their Facebook page on Sunday.

Security troops in the country have been out in force since Friday, with armoured personnel carriers stationed at key traffic areas. Meanwhile, security agents have rounded up dozens of activists, journalists, and lawyers from their homes and cafes in downtown Cairo. Activist group Freedom for the Brave says nearly 100 people have been arrested since the latest round of detentions began last week.

On Sunday, Egypt’s military spokesman Brigadier General Mohammed Samir said armed forces would be deployed to prevent saboteurs from taking advantage of the protests. And a statement from the government said Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar had met with officials to review preparations to confront any attempts to "break the law".

Mr Abdel-Ghaffar was quoted as saying security apparatus would be ready to address any action that could disturb public security with "the utmost firmness and decisiveness," and urged citizens to ignore calls to create chaos and drive a wedge between the people and police.

AP contributed to this report.

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