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Egypt police disperse protest against Saudi island deal

April 15, 2016

Egyptian police fired tear gas at dozens of protesters in Cairo on Friday who rallied against a controversial deal to hand two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia, a security official said.

A police official said officers fired tear gas and made arrests at one of the protests in the Cairo neighbourhood of Mohandessin.

The deal to hand over two islands in the Straits of Tiran, signed during a visit by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to Cairo last week, has provoked a storm of criticism against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Outside the Journalists’ Syndicate in central Cairo, about 200 protesters chanted “down with military rule”, the signature slogan of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

“I’m protesting because of the overall situation in the country, not just the islands,” said one of the demonstrators, Mohamed Hussein, an engineer.

Police had warned Egyptians on Thursday not to hold demonstrations after activists called for rallies across Cairo after Friday weekly Muslim prayers.

Sisi, a former army chief who overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, led a crackdown on Islamists that killed hundreds of protesters.

Demonstrations not approved by the police have been banned.

The calls for protests were issued by secular and Islamist activists who accuse Sisi of “selling” the islands in return for Saudi investments.

The Egyptian government says the islands were Saudi to begin with, and that they were leased to Egypt in 1950.

Critics who concede that the islands belong to Saudi Arabia still took issue with the way Sisi’s administration announced the deal only after signing it.

Sisi, in a long speech defending himself on Wednesday, said the matter was kept secret to avoid controversy.

The president, who won elections in 2014, is reviled by Islamists and secular dissidents, but many Egyptians say they need a strong leader to revive the country’s economy after years of unrest.

He had enjoyed unwavering loyalty in much of the Egyptian media since he took office, but criticism of the president and his police force has grown in recent months.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.