The Egyptian Cabinet on Tuesday asserted that it had never issued orders to forcefully disperse peaceful demonstrators, despite more than one recent incident suggesting otherwise.
"The Cabinet denies recent reports about the forceful dispersal of peaceful protests, affirming the right of citizens to stage peaceful and legal demonstrations...without hindering the affairs of other citizens or damaging public or private property," Prime Minister Hisham Qandil's Cabinet declared in a Tuesday statement.
The statement comes against the backdrop of weeks of violent clashes near the US embassy in Cairo between security forces and demonstrators following the appearance of a short film denigrating Islam and the Prophet Mohamed. Tuesday's Cabinet statement, however, appeared to imply that protests recently dispersed by security forces had not been peaceful in nature.
Since Saturday, the first day of Egypt's new academic year, the country has witnessed a wave of labour strikes – by university workers, school teachers and bus drivers, among others – which, informed sources say, were forcibly dispersed.
On Monday, security forces, acting on court order, broke up a sit-in staged by faculty members and students – of which two were arrested – at Nile University in 6 October City. The sit-in was organised as a response to a prolonged dispute over ownership of the university's campus.
"Yesterday, police wanted to enter the bus drivers' sit-in by force and arrest the spokesman of the independent workers union, but workers resisted and the spokesman turned himself in. Now he's facing charges of inciting the strike," said Hisham Fouad, researcher at Egypt's Welad El-Ard Labour Research Centre.
"On the same day, police also dismantled tents at a teachers' sit-in being held in front of Cabinet headquarters," he added.
Fouad went on to point to "several forms of harassment" recently used by police and administrative authorities against strikers, in addition to outright dispersals by force, including unjustified dismissals.
Egypt in recent years has witnessed an increase in labour strikes, especially after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. Mass strikes are also believed to have played an important role in the build-up to last year's January 25 Revolution.
Prime Minister Hisham Qandil was appointed by President Mohamed Morsi in late July.