CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces fired tear gas and arrested scores of people to disperse small protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday, deterring what activists had hoped would be large demonstrations, witnesses and security sources said.
Earlier this month, thousands angered by Sisi’s decision to hand over two islands to Saudi Arabia called for his government to fall in the largest demonstration since the former army general took office in 2014.
Security forces moved on Monday to prevent a repeat scenario, blocking roads in Cairo leading to a central meeting point and dispersing a march in the Dokki neighborhood with tear gas, a witness said.
Protesters said the marches were a sign of growing dissent.
“There is a different kind of momentum that wasn’t there for the past two years,” said activist Mona Seif, adding that the dispersal of protests was reminiscent of the early days of the 2011 uprising which toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
“People were waving at us from the balcony,” she said.
Videos and pictures posted on social media showed teargas being used at a small protest drawing dozens in the Imbaba district. Some chanted “The people want the fall of the regime” - a slogan from the 2011 uprising.
Aircraft and helicopters circled over Cairo.
Police in recent days have arrested more than 90 people across eight governorates, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a Cairo-based human rights group.
On Monday, scores were arrested both in Cairo and outside of the capital, including six in the northern port city of Damietta and 12 in the Nile Delta industrial town of El-Mahalla El-Kubra, security sources said.
The Interior Ministry said it could not provide an immediate count for how many protesters had been detained.
The protests coincided with a national holiday celebrating the final Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula in 1982.
About 2000 Sisi supporters turned out for official celebrations at Abdeen Palace with families holding placards adorned with the president’s face and the words “We trust you”.
The protests took place as Sisi faces criticism for a government accord putting the uninhabited Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi waters.
Saudi and Egyptian officials say the islands belong to the kingdom and were only under Egyptian control because Riyadh had asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.
There are no signs that Sisi’s rule is under immediate threat.
Reporting by Cairo bureau; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Tom Heneghan