Protests in Egypt against Red Sea islands deal, more expected on 25 April

Ahram Online , Friday 15 Apr 2016

Protesters outside Egypt's Downtown Press Syndicate on Friday, 15 April, 2016 (Photo: Mostafa Ali)

Protests opposing the government’s decision to acknowledge Saudi Arabian sovereignty over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir ended on Friday without casualties, with protesters vowing to stage another protest on 25 April.

Small protests took place in different parts of the country after Friday prayers but were dispersed quickly by security forces. The largest demonstration was at Egypt’s press syndicate in central Cairo, which witnessed several thousand protesters according to Ahram Online reporters, making the protest the biggest such gathering in recent months.

The protesters gathered at the press syndicate chanted against the decision but also used slogans familiar from the January 2011 revolution, such as "bread, freedom and social justice" and "the people want the regime to fall." One chant was "bread, freedom and those islands are Egyptians'."

Police stationed themselves near the syndicate, closing all the streets leading to the syndicate except one. Shops in the area had been told to close by the local municipality.

Khaled El-Balshy, the head of Freedoms Committee at the syndicate, told Ahram Online that the main demand of the protest was to cancel the government’s agreement with Saudi Arabia to redraw the maritime borders.

"We have not forgotten that the regime cracks down freedoms in Egypt, but our main demand today is the cancellation of that agreement between the Egyptian government and Saudi Arabia," he said.

The demand of El-Balshy was echoed throughout the protest, with many demonstrators expressing similar sentiments while speaking to Ahram Online.

Egyptian political activists leading the protest at the syndicate announced that they would organise another one on Monday 25 April, which marks Sinai Liberation Day, to demand the cancelation of the Saudi agreement.

The April 6 Youth Movement, which participated in Friday's protest, also announced that there would be another protest on 25 April.

Despite the Muslim Brotherhood's announcement that they would participate in the protest, their presence was not discernable, with no pro-Brotherhood or pro-Islamist slogans visible or chants heard.

Protesters at the press syndicate decided to end the day and were granted a safe exit by security forces.

After the majority left, there were limited skirmishes between the police and some protesters and the former fired teargas and arrested some of them, according to eye witnesses.

Small protests

Earlier on Friday the police used teargas to disperse a number of small protests in other parts of the capital. But unlike previous demonstrations that ended with deadly clashes, no one was reported injured or dead.

An anonymously created Facebook page titled "The Land is the Honour" had called on Egyptians who reject the decision to join street protests in a number of cities on Friday.

Following Friday noon prayers, dozens of protesters gathered at Istiqama Mosque in Giza and at Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohandeseen, apparently in response to the call on Facebook.

Police stationed near the two mosques quickly dispersed the protesters and arrested a few of them, a security source told Al-Ahram Arabic website.

The country’s interior ministry is yet to announce the numbers of those arrested.

In Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria, police have also dispersed a number of protesters. A security source told Al-Ahram Arabic website that at least 25 people have been arrested for "protesting without a permit" but no official figures have been announced yet.

Protesting without a police permit has been illegal since 2013, and violators of the law are frequently jailed.

One demonstration which was not dispersed was a gathering in front of Alexandria’s Qaed Ibrahim Mosque, where dozens of people chanted slogans in support of the government's decision to hand over the islands to Saudi Arabia.

In the Nile Delta governorates of Sharqiya and Mansoura, small protests were dispersed by security forces, according to Al-Ahram Arabic wesbite.

Security forces in Daqahliya governorate told Al-Ahram Arabic that 11 protesters were arrested in El-Thawra Square, the main square in the city of Mansoura, following noon prayers.

Last week Egypt stated that the two islands in the Gulf of Aqaba belong to Saudi Arabia and had only been placed under Egypt's control temporarily.

The government has released a slew of documents that it says support the Saudi claim, but the decision has still been strongly criticised on social media and by some public figures, who argue that Tiran and Sanafir are part of Egypt and use alternative documents and sources in support of their position.

For several hours, the hashtag “Land_Friday” was not only leading the Egyptian trending hashtags on Twitter, but leading worldwide hashtags, with more than 100,000 tweets.

On Thursday afternoon, Egypt's Ministry of Interior called on citizens not to be "duped" into following the calls made by the Muslim Brotherhood, which had also called for protests, warning against any attempts to upset the "legitimate order."

The ministry said it would take the necessary and decisive measures to ensure security and stability. 

According to security sources that spoke to Al-Ahram Arabic website, one hundred protesters were arrested in nine different governorates in Egypt on Friday. 

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