Egyptians continue to take to the streets against the parliament’s recent approval of a controversial plan to transfer the sovereignty of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, even after police arrested dozens of activists who had called for mass protests.
Egyptian police raided homes in the capital, Cairo, and at least 10 provinces across the country and arrested at least 40 people before nightfall on Thursday, said lawyers Mohammed Abdel-Aziz and Gamal Eid.
The detainees, most of whom were linked to secular democratic parties, have been arrested for calls on social media for protests to be held Friday at Cairo’s Tahrir Square against the parliament’s Wednesday approval of a deal to hand over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
At least eight people, including three journalists, were also arrested during a rally on Tuesday, facing charges of disrupting public services and security and protesting without a permit, said the lawyers.
“The government has chosen more oppression rather than dialog,” Eid said. “The arrests are meant to distract anyone who intends to protest tomorrow and sow confusion in the ranks of the opposition.”
A Facebook page named “Giving up land is treason,” has urged people to protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Thousands have so far backed the call.
Last year, a similar call for protests over the islands drew thousands of people. Police, which had been deployed in large numbers, beat up and arrested hundreds of protesters and activists.
The deal, which was agreed during a visit to Egypt by Saudi King Salman in April 2016, has so far been subject to challenges in court over the past year. It even became a source of tension between Riyadh and Cairo.
A court ruled in January that the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, which insists the islands belong to Saudi Arabia, had failed to provide evidence that the islands were originally Saudi. The ruling was, however, overturned by another court a few months later.
Eventually, a senior constitutional panel concluded that the court that had ruled to annul the deal had acted within its jurisdiction. But the parliament has insisted that the issue of the islands lies in its own jurisdiction.
Final approval is now needed from President Sisi, a former army general, who cut the deal with Saudi Arabia in the first place and who reportedly served for a while as Egypt’s military attaché in Riyadh during Egypt’s then-president Hosni Mubarak’s government.
Opponents accuse Sisi of “selling” Egyptian sovereign territory to the Saudi kingdom in return for billions of dollars in aid from Riyadh.