Egypt tries to squash rising defiance against al-Sisi regime

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/26/16, 02:15 pm

Egyptian authorities arrested at least 237 protesters yesterday, tamping what could have been a day of massive demonstrations against President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s regime.

The government’s decision to cede control of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia led many protesters to the streets of Cairo, where they seized the opportunity to decry other economic and political woes plaguing the country, chanting “bread and freedom” and “down with military rule,” among other slogans. Only days earlier, on April 15, the country witnessed its largest protest against al-Sisi’s regime since he took office, with thousands calling for him to step down.

“The protests are significant in that they’re coming perhaps for the first time since 2013 to protest in large numbers directly against Sisi,” said Kadir Yildrim, a research scholar at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

After learning of the upcoming protests on Facebook, Egyptian police sealed off the planned locations and deployed thousands of officers to stifle the protesters’ efforts.  Security forces also rounded up some journalists and activists ahead of the protests, accusing them of plotting unrest.

The demonstrators responded by staging flash rallies across the city. Police struck back with tear gas attacks. On Sunday, prior to the protest, Sisi delivered a thinly veiled warning during a televised speech, saying some people were attempting to destroy Egypt’s efforts to achieve security and stability.

“The Egyptian authorities appear to have orchestrated a heavy-handed and ruthlessly efficient campaign to squash this protest before it even began,” said Magdalena Mughrabi of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa section.

Saudi Arabia placed Sanafir and Tiran under Egypt’s care in 1950 amid fears Israel might attack them. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman announced a multi-billion dollar aid package to Egypt during his visit to Cairo. The leaders also announced the islands’ hand-over during meeting, resulting in accusations Sisi sold the islands to Saudi Arabia.

“The issue of timing is important because Egypt is going through serious economic troubles, so this $22 billion worth of investment is going to be a big boon for Sisi’s economic government,” Yildrim said.

Last month, Egypt’s central bank allowed a major devaluation to the country’s currency due to the failing economy. The protests may die down in the coming weeks, but the chaos stemming from the regime’s economic failure will continue, Yildrim said.

“They need to provide the people with something to gain some sort of legitimacy and typically, economic progress is a marker of that,” Yildrim said. “So if this regime is unable to even provide its end of the bargain in terms of economic prosperity, then it’s going to cause chaos even though it’s backed by the military.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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