Thousands protest against Egypt government over islands deal

Thousands of Egyptians angered by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to hand over two islands to Saudi Arabia called yesterday for the government to fall, chanting a slogan from the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
Their protests signalled that the former general, under mounting criticism now also for the struggling economy, no longer enjoys the broad public support that let him round up thousands of opponents after he seized power in 2013.
Egyptian security forces detained about 50 protesters, according to two security officials. Police surrounded crowds at the press syndicate, site of the biggest demonstration.
Sisi’s government prompted an outcry in Egyptian newspapers and on social media last week when it announced a maritime demarcation accord that put the uninhabited Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi waters.
“The people want the downfall of the regime!” protesters cried outside the Cairo press syndicate, using the signature chant of the 2011 revolt against then president Hosni Mubarak, who later stepped down.
They also chanted: “Sisi – Mubarak”, “We don’t want you, leave” and “We own the land and you are agents who sold our land.” In other parts of Cairo, police fired tear gas at protesters, security sources said.
The US government, which sees Cairo as a critical Middle East ally, will continue to watch carefully the situation in Egypt, the White House said.
Saudi and Egyptian officials say the islands belong to the kingdom across the Red Sea and were only under Egyptian control because Riyadh had asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.
Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states showered Egypt with billions of dollars in aid and grants after Sisi toppled freely elected President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 after mass protests against him.
Egyptians are eager for an economic revival after years of political upheaval, but the islands issue seems to have hurt their national pride, and prompted thousands to return to the streets to confront their leader.
There are no signs that Sisi’s rule is under immediate threat. But even local media, which once suggested he could do no wrong, have been attacking the president.
Critics say the government has mishandled a series of crises from an investigation into the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, 28, in Cairo to a bomb that brought down a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula last October.
Torture marks on Regini’s body prompted human rights groups to conclude he died at the hands of security forces, which Egypt denies. That revived complaints of police brutality, one of the issues that led Egyptians to challenge Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Sisi has made fighting corruption a top priority. But he drew fire last month after sacking Hesham Geneina, Egypt’s top auditor, who had stirred controversy by publicly concluding that state corruption had cost the country billions of dollars.
In a tweet, Geneina described the protests as the “purest, bravest and most noble demonstration of Egyptians” in decades.

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