Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi has urged citizens to defend the state and its institutions from what he called the “forces of evil” ahead of planned demonstrations against his policies.
In a televised speech, Sisi said there was a need for stability and any attempts to destabilise Egypt “would not succeed” if the people of the country were united.
“We have made a tremendous effort to achieve security and stability,” he said. “I am reiterating to the Egyptian people this is the responsibility of all of us, for us to protect this security and stability.”
Security was stepped up across the country – where protests are effectively banned – after opposition activists called for demonstrations on Monday, a national holiday that commemorates the withdrawal of the last Israeli troops from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982.
Officials warned that any protesters would be firmly dealt with.
Al Jazeera’s Middle East analyst Yehia Ghanem said the Egyptian government’s reaction to the planned demonstrations is likely to be violent.
“We need to look at the track record of both Sisi’s government and his security forces. The track record is not very shining. It is very violent,” he said.
“So when Sisi talks about a firm response, we should be expecting violence from the side of the security forces.”
Earlier this month, thousands of people marched in the biggest anti-government demonstrations since Sisi took office in 2014, shouting slogans such as “Down with the regime” and “Leave”, both of which were used during the 2011 revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.
More than 80 people were arrested in Cairo, Giza and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, security officials said.
A growing number of Egyptians are losing patience over corruption, poverty, and unemployment, the same issues that led to Mubarak’s downfall, while Sisi has appeared increasingly defiant in his speeches.
Discontent with his government worsened this month after a demarcation agreement that led to the handover of two Red Sea island to Saudi Arabia.
Sisi has defended that decision, saying the islands had been under Egyptian administration at Saudi Arabia’s request since 1950.
The negotiations over the islands began a decade ago, he said, and the deal allows the two nations to move forward with plans to build a bridge connecting them across the Red Sea at an estimated cost of $3bn to $4bn.
Al Jazeera’s Ghanem said a majority of Egyptians were not angered by the handover of the islands as much as by the way the transfer was done.
“It was done covertly, in absence of people,” he said, “People didn’t know there was such a thing as negotiations about the demarcation of maritime borders.”
Government opponents say police have cracked down on dissent since the protests earlier this month, arresting anti-Sisi activists and human rights lawyers.