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Egypt’s security clampdown mostly thwarts fresh anti-Sissi protests

Thousands of police on Cairo’s streets, and up to 2,000 arrests after last week’s demonstrations, largely stifle further action against the president

Illustrative: Egyptian riot police stand guard in Egypt's capital Cairo on September 27, 2019 (Khaled Desouki/AFP)
Illustrative: Egyptian riot police stand guard in Egypt's capital Cairo on September 27, 2019 (Khaled Desouki/AFP)

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities lifted Saturday some tight security measures in the capital, Cairo, a day after they sealed off the main square and downtown thoroughfares to thwart a possible protest against the country’s president.

The measures were part of a harsh security clampdown following rare demonstrations in several cities last weekend, all of which were broken up by police.

Calls for fresh protests on Friday were largely stifled by the deployment of thousands of police in Cairo’s streets, but there was a small protest of at least three dozen people on el-Waraq island at the northern fringes of the capital, which was quickly dispersed, according to three witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Security personnel were visible in Cairo’s main streets and squares on Saturday but did not prevent normal traffic as in the past days. Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the pro-democracy uprising in 2011 that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, was reopened, as were subway stations in the area that had been closed the day before.

Protesters chant slogans against the regime in Cairo, Egypt, early Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Dozens of people held a rare protest in Cairo during which they called on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to quit. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Last week’s small but rare protests against el-Sissi marked a startling eruption of popular dissent, which has been almost completely silenced in the past years by draconian measures imposed under the general-turned-president.

More than 2,000 people were arrested in the days after, according to right lawyers. The country’s general prosecutor said his office had questioned no more than 1,000 people over the protests.

The lawyers said prosecutors ordered those who were questioned to remain in custody for 15 days pending investigations into claims they took part in activities of an outlawed group and disseminating false news.

Egyptian protesters shout calling for the removal of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo’s downtown on September 20, 2019. (STR/AFP)

Over the past week, state-run local media launched a campaign attacking the protests, depicting them as part of alleged plots against Egypt’s stability.

The protests emerged from an online campaign led by an Egyptian businessman living in self-imposed exile who has presented himself as a whistleblower against corruption.

Mohammed Ali, who worked with the military for years, put out a series of viral videos earlier this month claiming corruption by the military and government.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

El-Sissi has dismissed the corruption allegations as “sheer lies.”

The president was greeted by hundreds of supporters at Cairo airport when he arrived Friday morning from New York where he attended the UN General Assembly.

With much of the city in lockdown, he sought to reassure people, saying that “there are no reasons for concern.”

On Saturday, Egypt’s the foreign ministry condemned a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the protests, as “unacceptable.”

Michelle Bachelet had expressed concern over “the lack of due process” following the arrests, referring to reports that those detained were denied legal representation and charged with “serious offenses.”

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