Egypt restricts sale of yellow vests amid fear of protests

Restrictions imposed to ward off France-style protests ahead of the anniversary of Egypt's 2011 uprising.

    The "yellow vest" protests in France forced President Emmanuel Macron to offer concessions [File: Benoit Tessier/Reuters]
    The "yellow vest" protests in France forced President Emmanuel Macron to offer concessions [File: Benoit Tessier/Reuters]

    An Egyptian prosecutor ordered the arrest of a lawyer after the publication of a picture of him wearing a yellow vest similar to those worn by protesters in France, a local rights activist said.

    The arrest came in the northern city of Alexandria as traders said Egyptian authorities were blocking the sale of the vests to ward off any copycat protests ahead of the anniversary of Egypt's 2011 revolution on January 25.

    The yellow safety vests have become the trademark of French demonstrators whose violent weekend protests since mid-November have forced President Emmanuel Macron to cancel planned fuel tax increases and increase the minimum wage.

    Rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan was ordered to be held for 15 days, according to Mahienour El Masry, an activist in Alexandria.

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    Authorities considered the photo an incitement to hold similar protests, she said, adding that Ramadan was also accused of "spreading false news" and "spreading the ideology of a terrorist group".

    Two security sources told Reuters that eight yellow vests had been found in Ramadan's possession, but the Alexandria prosecutor's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    In central Cairo, traders said they had been stopped from selling the vests to walk-in customers. 

    "They made us sign statements that we won't sell yellow vests," said one trader who did not want to give his name.

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    "Anyone who sells a single vest will put himself in big trouble." 

    He refused to sell any of the yellow vests in his shop window, which were priced at around $1. "Now they are for display only," he said.

    'Caution rather than fear'

    An employee at another shop said the restriction on selling the vests had started on Saturday and would continue until Jan 25, the eighth anniversary of the popular uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak.

    At a third shop, a worker said the vests could only be supplied for commercial orders. Security sources confirmed that authorities had prevented industrial security suppliers from selling the yellow vests. 

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    "It is a question of caution, rather than fear," said one of the sources, when asked if authorities were afraid of protests ahed of the anniversary.

    Since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in a 2014 coup, there has been a crackdown on political opposition and dissent that activists say is the most severe for decades. 

    Thousands of opponents and critics of Sisi have been arrested, including those allegedly linked to the banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation, and secular rights activists.

    Mass demonstrations in Cairo in 2011 turned led to the overthrow of Egypt's then-President Hosni Mubarak [File: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

    El-Sisi's backers say he is working to keep Egypt stable as it recovers from political turmoil after the 2011 uprising and tackles deep economic challenges

    One activist told Reuters that spontaneous protests like those in France were now impossible in Egypt.

    "Opposition political movements do not have a presence on the ground and current political parties are part of the regime," said the activist who asked to be identified only by his first name, Mustafa.

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    "More importantly, the location of all activists is not known ... They are either in prison or in their houses subject to police supervision".

    Egypt is classified as "not free" by Freedom House, an international watchdog.

    In the group's Freedom in the World index, countries are given ratings on political rights and civil liberties ranging from one to seven, with one being "most free" and seven being "least free".

    On both indicators, Egypt has six, the second-lowest score.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies