09/27/2019, 16.15
EGYPT
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As Egypt braces for new protests, al-Sisi rejects accusations, calls for calm

Security measures and checks have been stepped up in iconic places, like Tahrir Square. Exiled magnate Aly calls on Egyptians to rise and take part in a “million-man march”. About 1,900 people have been detained according to rights groups, a figure refuted by the Prosecutor’s Office. For the president, some media are fuelling "lies and defamation”.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Egypt is bracing for a second weekend of protests, whilst President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, back today from the UN General Assembly in New York, displays a certain calm and the police patrol the country’s cities.

According to human rights groups, the authorities have carried out a massive arrest campaign, taking into custody at least 1,900 people, a figure refuted by Egypt’s public prosecutor who on Thursday said that “not more than 1,000” people had been questioned after participating in protests.

The protests broke out suddenly on 20 September, triggered by a viral video from exiled Egyptian businessman Mohamed Aly, a turn of events that surprised observers in a country where all opposition has been severely curtailed. 

Widespread rumours of corruption in the upper echelons of the government and an increasingly difficult economic crisis have increased dissatisfaction.

From his refuge in Europe, Aly, a controversial construction magnate, has accused al-Sisi of building lavish palaces whilst ordinary Egyptians struggle to make ends meet because of the austerity policy imposed by international financial institutions, most notably the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which has extended Egypt a loan programme totalling US$ 12 billion.

Aly has called for a "million-man march" and a "people's revolution" to unseat one of the most authoritarian figures in the Middle East. For their part, the authorities in recent days have stepped up security measures, especially in Cairo's Tahrir Square – the iconic epicentre of the 2011 popular revolt that toppled then President Hosni Mubarak. 

Last week's protests were centred on the same square, following a football match, with protesters chanting "leave, Sisi!" and accusing him of heading a "military regime".

As it cracked down, the security forces detained people they suspected of being key influencers of unrest – journalists, human rights activists and lawyers. In total, close to 2,000 people were detained, local NGOs reported, a figure disputed by other sources. The Prosecutor’s Office flatly denied arrests had taken place.

Yesterday, Aly posted another video showing footage from riots in 2011, juxtaposed with charges against the president. As the video has gained traction, with millions sharing it online, al-Sisi supporters went on a counteroffensive, promoting a campaign of support on social media using the #longliveSisi #theywantchaos hashtags.

The president himself arrived back from New York this morning, joking about the large group – including dignitaries and supporters – that showed up at dawn to welcome him at the airport, despite the fact that today is Friday, the Islamic day of rest.

Showing confidence, al-Sisi said that “The situation isn’t worth it. You need to know that the Egyptian people are very aware.”

Speaking about Aly, he added that “This is an image being painted as was done before, comprised of lies and defamation,” fuelled by “some media working to present an image that isn’t true. We’re really strong, the country is really strong with (because of) you.”

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