Thousands of Egyptian protesters demand resignation of Sisi's government over island deal with Saudi Arabia

Egyptian protester shout slogans against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his government, during a demonstration protesting the government's decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, in front of the Press Syndicate Cairo, Egypt,April 15.
Egyptian protester shout slogans against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his government, during a demonstration protesting the government's decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, in front of the Press Syndicate Cairo, Egypt,April 15.

Thousands of Egyptians angered by President Abdel Fattah al Sisi's decision to hand over two islands to Saudi Arabia called on Friday for the end of his government, chanting a slogan from the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Their protests signalled that the former general, who is also under mounting criticism over the struggling economy, no longer enjoys the broad public support that allowed him to round up thousands of opponents after he seized power in 2013.

In the evening, riot police who had surrounded the site of the biggest demonstration - in the heart of downtown Cairo - dispersed the crowd with tear gas, Reuters witnesses said.

People look on from a bus behind riot police in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt, April 15, 2016. (Reuters)
People look on from a bus behind riot police in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt, April 15, 2016. (Reuters)

Egyptian security forces detained a total of 119 protesters at several demonstrations, according to security officials.

The decision by Sisi's government to put the uninhabited Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi waters prompted an outcry in Egyptian newspapers and on social media last week when it was announced.

"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.

Egyptian protesters shout slogans against President Abdel Fattah al Sisi and the government during a demonstration protesting the government/s decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo. (Reuters)
Egyptian protesters shout slogans against President Abdel Fattah al Sisi and the government during a demonstration protesting the government/s decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo. (Reuters)

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.

An Egyptian activist holds a sign that reads
An Egyptian activist holds a sign that reads "Egypt is not for sale" during a demonstration protesting the government's decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, in front of the Press Syndicate in Cairo, Egypt, April 15, 2016. (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states showered Egypt with billions of dollars in aid and grants after Sisi toppled President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, following mass protests against him.

But a sharp drop in oil prices and differences with Cairo over such regional issues as the war in Yemen have raised questions over whether strong Gulf Arab support can be sustained.

Mishandled crises

Egyptians are eager for an economic revival after years of political upheaval. But the issue over the islands seems to have hurt their national pride, prompting thousands to return to the streets to confront their leader.

There are no signs that Sisi's rule is under immediate threat. However, 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.

An Egyptian activist holds a poster calling for justice to be done in the case of the recently murdered Italian student Giulio Regeni during a demonstration protesting the government's decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
An Egyptian activist holds a poster calling for justice to be done in the case of the recently murdered Italian student Giulio Regeni during a demonstration protesting the government's decision to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)

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.

A growing number are now losing patience over corruption, poverty and unemployment, the same issues that led to Mubarak's downfall, while Sisi has appeared increasingly authoritarian in televised speeches.

"We want the downfall of the regime," said Abdelrahman Abdellatif, 29, an air conditioning engineer, at the Cairo protest. "The youth of the revolution are still here ... We are experiencing unprecedented fascism and dictatorship."

Source: TRT World