Hundreds estimated arrested in country-wide protests, as political source describes confusion in president’s absence
Courtesy: Basma Mostafa
 

Hundreds of protesters were arrested last night by police forces in widespread protests calling for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to step down in the wake of corruption allegations, according to estimates relayed to Mada Masr by lawyers and human rights organizations.

In Cairo, the number of arrests ranged from 200 to 300, while in Alexandria, the number was between 50 and 100 people. In the Suez governorate, more than 100 people were detained. Mada Masr was not able to determine the number of arrests in the governorate of Gharbiyah. 

All those arrested were transferred to police stations and Central Security Forces camps in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, according to the above mentioned sources.

The Ministry of Interior and public prosecutor have not yet issued any official statements about those arrested yesterday. 

The only official who has spoken on the protests in the 24 hours that have elapsed since the protests is the presidential advisor for remote and border areas, Major General Ahmed Gamal Eddin, who issued a statement today describing the events as “conspiracies and attempts to undermine the symbol of the state and its national institutions,” by “agents, mercenaries and fugitives.”

A political source who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity said the lack of comment represents the state of confusion prevailing within the Interior Ministry in the absence of direct orders from the president on how to deal with the protests. 

While the ministry was in possession of information predicting that around 40,000 people would participate in protests across the country, top Interior Ministry officials decided ahead of the protests not to act on the information, postponing the matter until Sisi returned to the country from his trip to New York to attend the 74th General Assembly Session of the United Nations, according to the political source in communication with the National Security Agency. 

Although Sisi considered suspending his trip to New York in the fallout over accusations made by former actor and contractor Mohamed Ali that the president and the Armed Forces had misused state funds on vanity projects, Sisi left the country last night just ahead of the scheduled start of protests.

In Sisi’s absence, the NSA asked several members of Parliament to calm protesters in their districts, according to the political source. MPs did not respond to this request, however, the source added, explaining that MPs do not have the ability to play such a role. Instead, top officials in the Interior Ministry gave orders that should demonstrations break out, police were to refrain from making mass arrests, as well as ordering that leading Muslim Brotherhood figures should be targeted two days after the fact in areas where protests had taken place. 

However, even this decision was retracted, after protesters turned out in large numbers and officials began to sense that protesters had passed the fear threshold, the political source added. 

Based on eyewitness testimony, Mada Masr estimated that hundreds of people turned out to demonstrate against Sisi last night in Suez, Cairo, Alexandria and Mahalla. The protests were sparked by Ali’s accusations and calls for people to demonstrate against Sisi after a football match between Al-Ahly and Zamalek. Activists, military and former intelligence officers have also entered the fray, releasing videos substantiating and furthering Ali’s criticisms of the president and high-ranking military officers. 

Joining the calls to demonstrate were a series of communiques attributed to former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan, who has been incarcerated since 2018 after being convicted by a military court after announcing his intention to run in the 2018 presidential elections.

The first statement demanded that the minister of defense and Armed Forces abstain from supporting the “head of the regime” and instead return the military to its original role of protecting the country and maintaining peace. The second statement, posted on a Facebook page attributed to Anan, welcomed the planned Friday protests, calling on protesters to remain in the streets until the state is rid of the “head of the regime.”

However, on Saturday, a second Facebook page attributed to Anan denied the authenticity of the earlier statements.  

In his first reaction to the statement attributed to Anan, Farid el-Deeb, the former chief of staff’s lawyer, told mada Masr that his client is in custody, adding that he had no information on Anan’s personal account on Facebook, who manages it or what is being attributed to him. 

Samir Anan, the former prominent officer’s son, refused to comment on what has been attributed to his father, telling Mada Masr that he does not know who published the two statements titled, “Two letters to the Nation.”

Anan is serving his 10-year sentence in the Maadi Military Hospital, according to government sources. He was charged with violating military protocol in announcing his candidacy for presidency in the 2018 elections while he remained under obligation to render military service in times of need.

As Anan disowned the calls to protest against Sisi published in his name, media outlets attacked the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming that the group was responsible for inciting the protests described in the print press as a “failure.”

Protesters published live video feeds from demonstrations in several governorates to confirm the extent of the response to calls for demonstrating to oust Sisi. Several domestic media outlets focused on the live feeds, including a report by Youm7 on Saturday saying: “The MB media fabricated several videos and photos and broadcast them to show a different reality and spread rumors as the reality of the Egyptian streets.” The report added that the “MB media” claimed the death of two young men, which was proven untrue, according to Youm7. This narrative was also supported by Al-Watan newspaper. The TV channel Extra News broadcast a segment to show how to make a video that it described as “fabricated” to be used as alleged “live feed” for social media networks to forge the truth, according to Al-Dostour website.

The online portal for Al-Bawaba news published an interview with Ali Abdel Khalek, Mohamed Ali’s father, who described his son as a “traitor and an agent,” while apologizing to the president and the Armed Forces. Abdel Khalek said that Ali’s family considered him to have died.

Users have reported difficulty accessing several news outlets, including BBC Arabic and Al-Hurra, both of which carried coverage of the protests. 

The police arrested hundreds of protesters in the Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Gharbiyah governorates, lawyer Khalid Ali told Mada Masr. However, the lawyer was not able to provide an accurate estimate of the total number of arrests, saying that those who were detained on Friday night have yet to be brought before the public prosecution. 

However, Ali said he was able to confirm that 100 people were arrested in Suez, adding that, in Cairo, “there are much more than that.” 

According to Ali, those who were arrested are being screened by the NSA before being taken to the public prosecution for investigation. 

Lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer told Mada Masr that some have estimated the number of arrests in Cairo to range from 200 to 300 people, while others have put the number as high as 500. Baqer added that a group of lawyers are currently inquiring as to whether protestors will be questioned by the State Security Prosecution or by the public prosecutor in order to find out exactly how many people are being held in custody. 

As for Alexandria, lawyer Mohamed Hafez told Mada Masr that the arrests have been estimated to range between 50 and 100 people. According to Hafez, the Alexandria prosecution has not begun investigations with protesters.

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