Egyptian authorities have arrested more than 1,100 people, including several high-profile individuals, after rare protests were held in several cities calling on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to quit.
Those reported arrested in the past two days include one of Egypt’s most prominent opposition figures, a former spokesman for a candidate in last year’s presidential election, and a renowned writer, human rights monitors said on Wednesday.
Defying a ban on protesting without a permit, thousands took to the streets in the capital Cairo and other cities on Friday in response to calls for demonstrations against alleged government corruption. The protests continued in the Red Sea city of Suez on Saturday.
Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said his group and two others – the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms – documented more than 1,100 arrests.
Several hundred people are under investigation for using social media to “spread false news”, undermining national security, joining a banned “terrorist” group, and protesting without a permit, defence lawyers say.
The interior ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.
Khaled Dawoud, a leading member of the Civil Democratic Movement, a coalition of opposition parties and figures, was detained late on Tuesday in Cairo, Eid said.
Also arrested was Hazem Hosny, a former spokesman for the short-lived 2018 presidential campaign of ex-military chief of staff Sami Anan, said Mustapha Kamel el-Sayyid, a professor at Cairo University, citing Hosny’s family.
El-Sayyid said Hassan Nafaa, a prominent writer and analyst who also teaches at Cairo University, has been missing since 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, citing Nafaa’s family.
Security forces have stepped up their presence in main squares in major cities and have been conducting spot checks of mobile phones for political content.
El-Sisi came to power after leading the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, following mass protests against him in 2013.
Demonstrations in Egypt have been rare under el-Sisi, who has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent that rights activists say is the most severe in the country’s modern history.
El-Sisi’s supporters say tough measures were necessary to stabilise Egypt after the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled former strongman Hosni Mubarak.
On Wednesday morning, the Arabic hashtag “Sisi is not my president” was trending with more than 40,000 tweets. Several Twitter hashtags have been used to rally support for the protests, while hashtags in support of el-Sisi have also appeared.
The protests took place after a former civilian contractor for the military, Mohamed Ali, posted a series of videos accusing el-Sisi and the military of corruption. The president dismissed the allegations as “lies and slander”.
Ali has called for mass protests again on Friday.