Despite the deployment of heavily armed special forces from the Ministry of Interior, hundreds of anti-government protesters took to the street all over the country, defying the controversial Protest Law and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s orders “not to talk” about the recent Egyptian-Saudi maritime demarcation deal.
Friday protests were the latest culmination of the widespread raged sparked by the transfer of sovereignty of the Sanafir and Tiran island, describing the decision as “treason” and “selling of Egyptian lands”. The protesters called for the “fall of the regime” and the end of what they referred to as “military rule”. The protesters vowed to return to the street on 25 April, which marks Sinai Liberation Day.
Though such calls are often repeated in weekly Muslim Brotherhood-organised demonstrations, Friday marked the first time since the military ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 that the secular left and liberal parties and movements called for protests in which they vocally demanded the removal of the regime.
Activists dubbed Friday the “Day of land and honour”, in an expression of condemnation of the sovereignty transfer.
More than 250 protesters were reportedly arrested nationwide, according to local NGO Democracy Index. In downtown Cairo, approximately 100 people were arrested and released shortly thereafter, although 26 were referred to the prosecution unit in Qasr Al-Nil, according to Al–Haqanya Law Centre.
No casualties were reported, but some activists reported minor injuries as a result of teargas deployed by riot police.
The Ministry of Interior’s media office said they do not have a definite number of the people arrested. According to Democracy Index, eight protests, 18 marches, and seven human chains were organised.
Activities took place in 13 governorates, most notably Alexandria, Giza, Mansoura, Sharqeya, Hurghada, and Sohag. However, the focus of the protests was in front of the Egyptian Press Syndicate in Cairo.
Protesters decried the Red Sea islands Tiran and Sanafir’s sovereignty transfer and called for the fall of the regime. The official state narrative argued that the demarcation process was launched after accurate reports from sovereignty institutions in Egypt, such as the Egyptian intelligence apparatus, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defence.
Demonstrations in Sayeda Zeinab and Ain Shams converged at the Press Syndicate, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party told Daily News Egypt.
Meanwhile, heavily armed police forces were deployed to Tahrir Square and prevented reporters from taking pictures. Central Security Forces blocked Abdel Khaleq Tharwat Street, where the Press Syndicate is located.
The syndicate opened its headquarters to journalists assigned to cover the protests, said Gamal Abdel Rahim, the secretary of the Press Syndicate. Protest organisers and the 6 April Youth Movement asked protesters to walk in groups en route to the Press Syndicate.
In Ain Shams, security forces and civilians working with the police arrested nine protesters. The arrested men were escorted to microbuses belonging to the police, eyewitnesses told Daily News Egypt. A Daily News Egypt reporter witnessed security forces arresting two protesters.
In Cairo, Central Security Forces dispersed protesters demonstrating in front of the Moustafa Mahmoud mosque in Giza, firing teargas into the crowd.
Anger over the sovereignty transfer, which was decided unilaterally by the Egyptian government, was not limited to the form of protests. Legal action against the decision has also gained wide support, with a trial challenging the decision to start on 17 May. Further, a number of members of parliament held a press conference last week, rejecting the agreement. Moreover, several Egyptian political parties have vocally criticised it as an attempt to “give away” Egyptian land to Saudi Arabia.
The report issued by Democracy Index described the reaction of the Egyptian state to the protests as similar to that of Hosni Mubarak, raising questions over the media coverage of the protests. It added that mobilisation “broke the silence” that previously existed.
In terms of security measures, riot police dominated the streets, closing off roads that led to the demonstrations and surrounding protesters with informers and plain-clothes police conscripts. Security forces dispersed all the demonstrations, while a pro-government demonstration in Alexandria was allowed to proceed uninterrupted.
The day was marked by security formations from the Central Security Forces, and the Military Police took control of main squares and streets leading to downtown Cairo. On Thursday, the Ministry of Interior announced that “although it respects freedom of speech” it rejects protesting and will act decisively to quell any attempt to “spread chaos”.
On the official level, members of the government and officials remained silent and did not comment or react to the protests. Similarly, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi did not address the issue during an “inspection tour of El-Galalah Development projects in Sinai”.
Conversely, Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa condemned on Friday potential violent protests in press statements to state-run MENA, describing them as “a call for chaos” that “serves the enemies of the state”.