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Egypt mobilises security forces as Brotherhood calls for mass protests

Scores of activists already arrested as Muslim Brotherhood urges people to take to streets over loss of islands and Sisi's 'treasonous coup'
Egyptians shout slogans as they gather at the site where a policeman shot and killed a street vendor last week on outskirts of Cairo (AFP)

Egypt’s security forces deployed troops outside key public buildings on Monday in anticipation of what some are predicting to be the largest demonstrations since the rise to power of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

In a statement, the army said that its forces would be deployed around “vital targets and major institutions,” and security patrols and military police forces would be stationed in major areas nationwide.

Scores of activists have been arrested ahead of the demonstrations. The protests were scheduled to take place outside the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, but authorities reportedly sealed off the area:

The Journalists Syndicate reported on Monday that five journalists had been arrested by police, including Stefan Sigurd Weichert from Ahram weekly and Harald Christian Hoff, a freelancer from Norway.

According to the Egyptian Streets website, among those arrested - and then released - was Basma Mostafa, the first journalist to interview the family members of gang members accused of torturing and killing Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni.

Demonstrations have been ongoing in Egypt since the country agreed earlier this month to cede control to Saudi Arabia of the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir, near South Sinai.

The original decision sparked protests on 15 April, with thousands of demonstrators protesting near the journalists syndicate.

Ahead of the planned protests on Monday, Egypt’s interior minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar warned that there would be no tolerance of attempts to “undermine the country's security," and urged people not to respond to "calls inciting chaos".

Monday’s demonstrations take place on the 34th anniversary of Sinai Liberation Day, which saw the Sinai Peninsula returned to Egyptian control after it was captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Military parades and shows are set to take place by the army, navy and airforce, while military bands will perform nationalist musical pieces.

Security forces have also moved to restrict press coverage of demonstrations in the country - BBC correspondant Orla Guerin tweeted that she had been prevented from accessing Cairo's Tahrir Square, often a hub for anti-government activity:

Outrage over the “selling” of the Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia has been the main focal point of popular mobilisation in recent weeks and the timing of Monday’s protests on a date emphasising the re-establishment of Egyptian territorial sovereignty has been noted.

The Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday released a statement calling for protests, warning that the Egyptian government would be willing to return control of the Sinai Peninsula to the “Zionist enemy” again, referring to Israel.

“The military coup leaders who profaned Egyptian land, Egyptian honour, trampled the Egyptian citizen's dignity, and smeared the history, culture and tradition of this dear homeland, have escalated their crimes against humanity, and their callous spilling of innocent blood, and practiced all forms of repression throughout Egypt since the treasonous coup,” said the statement.

“The only solution now is to defeat and end this illegitimate coup, to reinstate democratic legitimacy, and put right all the ruinous coup's injustices and crimes.”

The Egyptian and Saudi governments have insisted that the islands always belonged to the kingdom and were only controlled by Egypt because Riyadh had asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.

Since the July 2013 coup that toppled Egypt's democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, former field marshal Sisi has presided over the arrest of thousands of opposition activists and a severe crackdown on public expression with numerous laws introduced to curb freedom of assembly.

On Monday, a group of 17 Egyptian human rights organisations released a statement calling for the release of protesters and the protection of demonstrators on the 25 April marches.

"The undersigned organisations have consistently called for the repeal of the protest law and urge the interior ministry to cease violating the right of peaceful assembly," read the statement, released on the website of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

"They further call on the prosecution to stop using trumped-up charges to harass activist and political dissidents and to cease using pretrial detention as a punitive measure.

"We hold the state responsible for protecting the lives and safety of demonstrators on 25 April."

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