DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Egyptian police dispersed exceptionally rare, small street protests that erupted in a northeastern province on Friday and arrested 10 demonstrators, a security official said.
The development — an unusual show of defiance in a country that has moved to stamp out nearly all dissent — comes one year after allegations of military corruption set off a wave of anti-government protests in Cairo and several other cities.
According to the official, dozens of residents of Shata, a working-class village in the Mediterranean province of Damietta, joined the protest as they poured out of mosques after Friday prayers. The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
He did not elaborate on how police managed to quell the protests, beyond saying they have arrested “rioters.”
Video clips that circulated on social media during the day show what appear to be protesters in several location marching in the streets against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. The footage could not be independently verified.
In the southern city of Luxor, police also arrested four people who had “intended to spark riots” for possession of Molotov cocktails, another security official said. He also spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason as his colleague.
In the years after el-Sissi led the military’s removal in 2013 of the country’s first democratically elected yet divisive Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, the government has launched an unprecedented crackdown, silencing critics and arresting thousands. El-Sissi banned all unauthorized protests soon after coming to power.
Last September, Mohamed Ali, a former Egyptian military contractor and self-proclaimed whistleblower living in exile in Spain, kindled a series of street protests with widely-watched videos that accused the government of wasting money on lavish construction projects. His rants infuriated many poor and middle-class Egyptians who have been squeezed by years of austerity measures and struggle to pay for basic goods.
The protests were swiftly quashed. Thousands of people landed in jail, according to lawyers’ estimates.
In late August, el-Sissi drew scorn on social media during a fiery televised speech about the need to eradicate illegal construction nationwide. He defended his development policies and said that if people didn’t agree with them, “I can just leave.”
Soon, a hashtag started trending on Twitter asking him to do just that. Early this month, when bulldozers rolled into an impoverished, informal settlement in the northern seaside city of Alexandria, residents thronged the street to block the wrecking crews, chanting against the government, according to videos streamed live and shared widely on YouTube.
For the past week, which marks the anniversary of the limited protest movement sparked by Ali’s corruption allegations, videos appeared to show small, scattered protests breaking out across mostly poor and rural provinces.
Several Egyptian human rights lawyers have drawn up impromptu lists of dozens of young men who they say have been arrested at demonstrations and now face murky terrorism-related charges, posting names on Facebook to inform their families. The Freedom of Thought and Expression law firm in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, identified 13 people in the province who prosecutors had ordered detained pending investigations after a protest Sunday.
Egypt’s interior ministry has not publicly acknowledged making arrests.
Meanwhile, pro-government Egyptian news outlets on Friday flooded their websites with images of empty streets and traffic circles across the country “with no demonstrations.” State-run media accuses the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, branded as a terrorist organization, of exaggerating the turnout and fomenting “chaos” to undermine the country’s stability.