Thursday 19 July 2018

237 protesters arrested in Cairo, rights groups say

Egyptians demonstrate against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Mesaha square in Cairo's Dokki district (AP)
Egyptians demonstrate against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Mesaha square in Cairo's Dokki district (AP)

At least 237 people have been arrested during protests in Cairo against a government decision to hand over control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, according to rights groups.

Rights lawyers Gamal Eid and Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, members of the Front for the Defence of Egyptian Protesters, said that all those detained were in custody by midnight on Monday when the group made its last tally.

The number of those still held could be lower since police have been intermittently releasing the detainees, they said.

It is unclear if anyone has been referred to prosecutors.

Thousands of police were deployed across much of Cairo on Monday to stifle plans for mass demonstrations called to protest against the government's decision to surrender the islands of Tiran and Sanafir.

Faced with the police's overwhelming numbers, protesters resorted to staging flash demonstrations in Cairo, drawing tear gas from the riot police.

The arrests, mostly in the Egyptian capital but also some in its twin city of Giza, followed the detention of nearly 100 in pre-dawn house raids and round-ups at cafes in Cairo. Those arrests mainly targeted rights activists and journalists.

Amnesty International criticised the arrests and the use of violence against protesters in a statement on Tuesday.

Magdalena Mughrabi, of the group's Middle East and North Africa section, said: "The Egyptian authorities appear to have orchestrated a heavy-handed and ruthlessly efficient campaign to squash this protest before it even began.

"Mass arrests, road blocks and huge deployments of security forces made it impossible for peaceful demonstrations to take place."

Authorities say the objective of the large deployment of police was to protect vital installations and Egyptians celebrating a holiday marking the final Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982.

Egypt says the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba off the southern coast of Sinai belong to Saudi Arabia, which placed them under Cairo's protection in 1950 because it feared Israel might attack them.

The announcement that they would be returned to the Saudis was made during a visit to Egypt this month by Saudi Arabia's King Salman as the kingdom announced a multibillion-dollar aid package to Egypt.

The timing fuelled rumours that the islands were sold off.

The transfer has sparked the largest protests since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi assumed power in June 2014.

On April 15 some 2,000 protesters gathered in Cairo to shout slogans against him for giving up the islands, calling on him to step down.

Mr El-Sissi has dismissed the controversy and insists Egypt has not surrendered an "inch" of its territory.

Press Association

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