Egyptian police dispersed a protest in Cairo while mounting a huge show of force in the centre and other cities after calls to demonstrate against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, witnesses said, as a large pro-Sisi rally was held in the capital.
Last week, protests broke out in central Cairo and other cities following calls for demonstrations against alleged graft and waste by Sisi and the powerful military, accusations Sisi denies.
Police on Friday fired tear gas to disperse up to 1 000 protesters in Cairo’s Warraq island, shouting “Leave Sisi,”witnesses and security sources said.
Protesters also tried to gather in Qus in southern Egypt but police dispersed them, security sources said.
There was no demonstration at Tahrir Square, as police closed all roads leading there, or in other parts of central Cairo. Tahrir Square was the epicentre of protests that led to the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Security forces have stepped up their presence in main squares in major cities and plainclothes police have been checking motorists’ and pedestrians’ mobile phones for political content, measures that continued on Friday.
Sisi, who was in New York this week attending the UN General Assembly, returned to Cairo on Friday morning, where he was greeted off his plane by senior ministers and later stopped to speak to a crowd of supporters on the roadside.
Asking them why they were up so early on a Friday, the first day of Egypt’s weekend, he said: “The situation isn’t worth it. You need to know that the Egyptian people are very aware. Don’t worry about anything.”
Sisi also appeared to repeat his earlier rejection of allegations of corruption posted online by Mohamed Ali, a former contractor and actor, in the run-up to the protests. Ali’s videos have attracted a wide following.
“This is an image being painted as was done before, comprised of lies and defamation and some media working to present an image that isn’t true,” he said.
Since last weekend’s protests, authorities have carried out a campaign of mass arrests that has resulted in the detention of about 2 000 people, according to rights monitors. Egypt’s public prosecutor said on Thursday that “not more than 1 000” had been questioned in the presence of lawyers after participating in protests.
Ali’s calls for new protests on Friday were countered by calls for pro-Sisi, “pro-stability” rallies, the largest of which was held along a major Cairo highway that had been cordoned off east of the city centre.