Security forces gear up to stop more protests across Egypt
At checkpoints, white-uniformed police officers randomly stop people, demanding to see their identity documents, even their phones. At street corners around downtown Cairo, police in riot gear sit in trucks, waiting. The presence of plain-clothes security agents has grown.
Throughout the week, the Egyptian government has been preparing for this day, widening its biggest security crackdown in years. A once-obscure whistleblower, Mohamed Ali, whose videos alleging high-level corruption have struck a chord with frustrated Egyptians, is urging millions to protest.
Their goal: to demand the fall of authoritarian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
"We are going to protest because we are on the right side, the good side," said Mohamed Ali Shawky (19), a university student. "We are doing this because we believe in the justice of our cause. That is what is making us stronger even when we are scared to death. It gives us faith, even when the regime has weapons and soldiers."
Whether large numbers of protesters will join Mr Shawki remains to be seen, but the Arab world's most populous nation is already more tense than at any moment since Mr el-Sisi took office five years ago. Last Friday, several hundred protesters took to the streets in a demonstration that amounted to the biggest challenge to Mr el-Sisi's rule.
Since then, the government has arrested more than 1,900 people, according to the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, and the number is likely to rise. Many were nabbed in random sweeps near downtown's Tahrir Square, the epicentre of Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime autocratic president Hosni Mubarak. Others were arrested in areas known to be populated by those who had joined the 2011 revolution, activists said.
Opposition politicians, journalists and activists have also been taken into custody, along with at least seven foreigners, as the el-Sisi government attempts to portray the emerging dissent as orchestrated by political foreign forces. Mr el-Sisi, in a meeting with US President Donald Trump this week at UN General Assembly in New York, blamed the protests on "political Islamic groups".
The government has warned foreign correspondents to properly cover the unfolding events, even as it released a second statement on Thursday saying that it has allowed hundreds of foreign correspondents to operate freely.
The changing tenor against Mr el-Sisi on Egypt's streets is dividing the nation. In some corners, it has triggered a backlash against efforts to bring his government down. Many Egyptians, especially in upper middle class and affluent areas, remember how the 2011 revolts led to political and economic chaos, shattering the nation's all-important tourism industry. After last Friday's protests, Egypt's stock markets tumbled, triggering more apprehension.
Such fears have also been stoked by the government. It has mounted its own campaign in state-run newspapers and television, as well as on social media, to portray Mr el-Sisi as honest and trustworthy.
Amr Adeeb, a well-known pro-government television host, this week showed footage of a group of foreigners, including Palestinian, Jordanian and Turkish nationals, apparently "confessing" that they were plotting against Egypt. No evidence was provided, however.
The government has also accused the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement of orchestrating the protests. Its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, became Egypt's first democratically elected president in 2012.
A year later, the Egyptian army ousted Mr Morsi in a coup engineered by Mr el-Sisi, who was the nation's top military general at the time.
Yesterday, pro-Sisi groups were planning to stage their own rally in the Nasr City enclave of Cairo.
Since Mr el-Sisi took office in 2014, his security forces have arrested tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and other opponents. (© Washington Post)