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Anger over Red Sea islands sale rallies Egyptians

April 25, 2016

Egypt's president and interior minister have warned that security forces will crack down on planned anti-government demonstrations. Popular anger smolders over plans to sell disputed islands to Saudi Arabia.

Ägypten Bereitschaftspolizei beendet Demonstration in Kairo
Image: DW/M. Abdou

A chorus of opposition politicians - including a rare alliance of secular and Islamist activists - have called for mass civil disobedience on Monday. The demonstrations are in response to nationalist anger over an Egyptian government deal to sell two strategic Red Sea islands to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi went on television Sunday calling on the nation to defend the Egyptian state against dark "forces of evil" he said are planning to drag the country down.

"I see there are people calling once again for damage to our security and stability," said el-Sissi, a former military officer whose rule has been characterized by zero-tolerance on dissent. "Our responsibility is to protect security and stability, and I promise Egyptians that no one will terrorize them again."

Authorities are likely nervous as the demonstrations will fall on a national holiday that commemorates the withdrawal of the last Israeli troops from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982.

Earlier this month, thousands marched against el-Sissi's policies in the largest demonstrations since he took power in a military coup in 2014. The protests featured slogans such as "leave," and "down with the regime," used in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Strongman president appeals to public

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi Rede
El-Sissi has been courted by European powers as a trading partner and foe of Islamist militants even as human rights groups report widespread abuses inside the countryImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

In his address, President el-Sissi tried to appeal to Egyptians' patriotic side to dissuade them from joining the anti-government protests.

"We must protect these institutions because these mean the state," el-Sissi said. "I am reiterating to the Egyptian people this is the responsibility of all of us, for us to protect this security and stability."

Protests are essentially banned in Egypt under laws passed after el-Sissi led the 2013 military coup against his elected predecessor, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, a similarly divisive figure.

"The law will be implemented upon everyone with absolute firmness, and nobody will be allowed to contravene it under any pretext," Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar told police commanders.

The Muslim Brotherhood said in a Sunday statement it supports the protests and is calling on its sympathizers to take to the streets alongside secular Egyptians.

jar/kms (AP, AFP)