Egypt's 25 April protests: The two islands and beyond

Ahram Online , Monday 25 Apr 2016

Several opposition parties and movements have announced their intention to protest the Egyptian-Saudi island deal, though analysts say protesters may be motivated by something more

Egypt's army vehicles deployed in Cairo ahead of planned protests on 25 April (the army spokesman's official Facebook page)

Several opposition political parties and movements in Egypt are calling for another day of protests on 25 April over the recent Egypt-Saudi agreement of redrawing maritime borders which places the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir within Saudi territorial waters.

Ten days have passed since several thousands gathered in Cairo on a protest dubbed the ‘Friday of Land’ to protest the deal, with the country seeing no pause in the debate over the rightful owner of the islands.

Egyptian officials, at the head of which is President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, maintain that the two islands in the Tiran Strait are indeed Saudi.

The Egyptian government has released documents which it says prove the islands are Saudi, though many in the opposing camp are presenting documents of their own asserting Egyptian sovereignty over the islands.

The Egyptian-Saudi agreement is still pending ratification by Egypt's House of Representatives.

The upcoming protests have been set to take place on Sinai Liberation Day, which marks the final withdrawal of Israeli forces from Sinai Peninsula as well as the two disputed islands.

Beyond the island issue

“Those protesters who took to the street on [Land Friday] and those who plan to protest on 25 April cannot be angry about Tiran and Sanafir only,” Dr Ammar Ali Hassan, a political researcher, told Ahram Online, explaining that the history of protests shows that accumulated anger can often manifest over a single issue.

“The government’s announcement about the island deal... was the last straw,” he said.

Hassan believes that for many who held hopes that President El-Sisi would implement a “corrective revolution” in government – to fight corruption, address human rights abuses by security forces and uphold freedom of expression and social justice – have lost faith in seeing any real change after the maritime border deal.

Hassan says that with the level of anger among many in the country, things can easily escalate if security forces use excessive force against protesters on 25 April.

“If one protester is killed or injured in confrontations with [police], things will get complicated for Egypt’s political leadership and it will cause more people to hit the street and protest,” he said, citing previous instances from the past five years where police violence during protests drove thousands more to demonstrations. 

Hassan believes, however, that the conduct of security forces during the ‘Land Friday’ protests was a sign that the interior ministry has learned from past experiences, given that relatively few protesters were arrested.

However, security forces launched a wide crackdown last Thursday, arresting over 100 people from Cairo and other governorates in one day, including political activists from the 6 April Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists.  

The following days saw even more arrests and detention orders issued against lawyers and journalists who were vocal in their opposition of the island deal and called for further protests. 

Many have said that this is a clear targeting of activists in anticipation of the protests, especially after media reports emerged claiming that the presidency was giving specific instructions to police to suppress any protests on 25 April, which the presidency has denied.

“Expanding the crackdown against youth will reinforce our determination in the right of peaceful expression against the sale of [Egypt’s] land," said Khaled Dawoud, the official spokesperson of the Constitution Party.   

Egypt's interior minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar asserted on Sunday that there will be no leniency shown for anyone who breaks the law, saying that the safety of citizens and the stability of the state take top priority.

"In light of the law and the constitution, the ministry will stand firm against any attempts to destabilise national security and any vital public or police facilities," the minister said in a statement following a meeting with heads of security ahead of the planned protests on Monday. 

Meanwhile, Egypt's military said on Sunday that it was deploying forces to secure major public buildings.

Who is protesting on 25 April and why?   

Political parties and movements with the opposition Democratic Current Alliance have declared their intention to protest the Egyptian-Saudi deal.

The Democratic Current Alliance is an umbrella group of liberal and leftist parties including the Constitution Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance and the Popular Current Party.

Former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, founder of the Nasserist Popular Current Party, declared that he would participate in the upcoming protests.   

Other groups have also announced their intention to protest, including the 6 April Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists movement, and the Strong Egypt Party. 

The pro-Sisi Future of Homeland Party has announced that it was organising a large celebration for Sinai Liberation Day in downtown Cairo’s Abdeen Square, a few blocks from the planned sites of the protests.

Party officials have said in media statements that they have obtained permits to assemble in accordance with the law for the celebration, which they say will be attended by thousands of youths and will feature documentaries and speeches honouring the Egyptian Armed Forces.

Some observers fear that the Future of the Homeland supporters could clash with protesters.  

The recently-founded Future of Homeland Party came second in the Egyptian parliamentary elections, winning 51 seats. The party has consistently taken pro-government positions in parliament.

Several independent members of parliament and political parties have said that they are waiting to hear the arguments favouring and opposing the Red Sea island deal before they take a stance on the matter, though close to 30 MPs have already declared their opposition to the deal.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party, which holds four seats in the House, is the only political party with seats in parliament to announce its rejection of the deal.

Several MPs have called on people not to take to the streets but instead present their case before parliament.

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