Egypt’s security forces arrested dozens of political activists in raids on both public and private spaces over the weekend, ahead of an attempt to thwart protests scheduled for 25 April.
The 25 April protests, which will coincide with Sinai Liberation Day, will demonstrate against the transfer of sovereignty of the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, part of a maritime borders’ demarcation agreement signed during Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud’s visit to Cairo earlier this month.
Security raids carried out by police forces began Thursday night and continued into Friday. Freedom for the Brave, a campaign that supports political detainees, published on Friday the names of 70 people who were allegedly arrested.
The raids mostly took place in the capital, but reports from activists and human rights lawyers claimed that raids also took place in other governorates, including Alexandria and Gharbeya.
Lawyer Sameh Samir of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) reported that late Thursday evening security forces “in plain clothes” stormed a café in downtown Cairo, called Ghazal, and randomly arrested nearly 20 people, including two writers and a lawyer.
“A blue prisoners’ deportation vehicle, along with two minibuses, stopped near Ghazal café and men in civil clothes started taking some young men. Despite the efforts of lawyers Sameh Samir and Mahmoud Belal to inquire about the reasons behind the arrests, they were met with aggression, and were told to ask about detainees later,” reported actor Ali Quandil, a witness to the incident.
Shortly after, Samir tweeted: “People should immediately leave from downtown cafés.” More reports of arrest followed, including the arrest of cartoonist Makhlouf, who was detained among others during a raid on El-Falah café on Qasr Al-Aini Street.
A group of human rights lawyers visited police stations in the downtown area, but were given no information about the detainees. The lawyers included Ragia Omran from the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), ECESR’s Malek Adly, Mokhtar Mounir, Ahmed Abdel Naby, Halim Henesh, Amr Imam and Mahmoud Belal, in addition to Press Syndicate official Khaled El-Balshy.
“Police stations don’t have information, and we were told that the raids were under the command of the National Security apparatus [affiliated with the Ministry of Interior],” said Adly.
Some of those arrested during the raids were released at random, such as journalist Sameh Heneen, writer Bassem Sharaf, cartoonist Makhlouf, and lawyer Sayed Sobhy. It was claimed that security vehicles containing the detainees were driving around the streets of downtown, according to the accounts of those who were freed.
After being released, cartoonist Makhlouf posted to his Facebook: “In my case, it wasn’t so bad. I was randomly arrested with a group of people, without any apparent reason. They let me go after an hour. People like us expect such things, but to others it is an unfortunate surprise. They have been arrested just for being ’youth’.”
Aside from the raids that took place in private places, private homes were also reportedly raided during the crackdown.
Activist Haitham Mohamadeen of the Revolutionary Socialists was taken from his home, and, according to Al-Bedaiah’s website, security forces raided the apartment of former detained journalist Mahmoud El-Sakka. El-Sakka, however, was not at home during the time of the raid.
Reports over the arrests on Thursday night and Friday morning counted that 26 people were detained at Ghazal café, 10 at El-Falah café, six at a café in Korba in Heliopolis, four in Alexandria, and two in Gharbeya.
According to the Freedom for the Brave campaign, arrests also took place in the Cairo and Giza districts of Nasr City, Shubra El-Kheima, Al-Omraneya, Faisal, and Imbaba, in addition to the governorates of Alexandria, Menufiya, Gharbeya, Sharqeya, New Valley and Qaliubiya.
The crackdown and arrests come after President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Thursday denied a report from Al-Shorouk that alleged the presidency commanded that officials tighten security ahead of the scheduled protests to avoid a repetition of the mass demonstrations, also over the Red Sea islands, that took place 15 April.
Similar security crackdowns were conducted in January 2016 ahead of the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution.