Egyptian authorities arrested at least 11 senior members of a left-wing party that has been calling for protests against president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a series of raids starting on Sunday night, a rights group documenting the arrests told Middle East Eye.
On Saturday, the Istiklal party announced that it was backing calls from self-exiled businessman-turned-activist Mohamed Ali who urged Egyptians to take to the streets in mass numbers on Friday to demand Sisi’s departure.
The party originally called for protests this Tuesday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, but later changed the date of the protest “to unite efforts for the sake of the success of a million-man march on Friday”.
According to Ahmed Attar, a London-based researcher for the local rights group the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, those arrested include: Magdy Qorqor, the party’s secretary general; Naglaa Al-Qalyoubi, wife of the detained party president Magdy Hussein; Ehab Goha, the party’s secretary general in Gherbeya governorate; Reda al-Naholi, the party’s press officer in Gherbeya; Mohamed Morad, the party’s secretary for labour affairs; Mohamed al-Amir, the party’s secretary for organisation; Sahar Ali, lawyer and member of the party’s legal committee; Mohamed al-Qudousi, the party’s media coordinator in Manzalah city; Mohamed Shadi, member of the youth committee; Ahmed al-Qazzaz, secretary of organisation and membership; and Ibrahim Khider, a member of the party’s executive committee.
The party has also confirmed the arrests on its official paper.
Attar said the arrests were carried out in dawn raids on Monday and Tuesday by security forces who did not present arrest warrants. It is not clear where the arrested party members are being held, he added.
The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, a Cairo-based civil society organisation, has published a list of more than 800 people arrested in connection with the wave of anti-government protests across Egypt since Friday.
They include leading human rights lawyer Mahienour El-Massry, who was arrested outside the state security prosecutor’s headquarters on Sunday shortly after she had visited others in detention.
Calls for toppling Sisi
Crowds took to the streets of Cairo and other cities on Friday night in the first major street protests against Sisi since he crushed peaceful protests after coming to power in a military coup in 2013.
Middle East Eye’s correspondent in Cairo reported that security forces used violent force and arrests to disperse crowds heading towards Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak.
The protests came after calls from Mohamed Ali, an Egyptian businessman-turned-whistleblower, for Egyptians to take to the streets following a football match between two popular football teams.
The owner of a real-estate company that has collaborated with the Egyptian armed forces for 15 years, Ali has led an online anti-Sisi campaign since the beginning of September through a series of video testimonies accusing the president of corruption and misappropriation of public funds.
Some of the projects assigned to his company, he has said, are palatial residences worth millions of dollars built for Sisi and his family since he became defence minister in 2012.
Thousands of Egyptians took part in demonstrations on Friday, calling for Sisi to step down.
With most of the leaders of the 2011 revolution silenced and traumatised by the crackdown led by Sisi since 2013, many have speculated that the current protests are largely leaderless, prompted mainly by Ali’s virtual campaign.
Sisi’s opponents from across the political spectrum have voiced sympathy for Ali’s online campaign, while TV channels run by exiled opposition leaders have reposted his daily videos, watched by millions.
Neither Sisi nor any military general have provided any detailed explanations to refute Ali’s allegations, giving Ali more credibility and igniting the protests.
In his only public response to the claims, Sisi did not deny building new palaces, and vowed to build “more and more” palaces “in the name of Egypt”.
Ali’s revelations have sparked a rare public debate on the military’s opaque budget and the contrast between Sisi’s calls for Egyptians to tighten their belts amid stringent austerity measures and the billions spent on luxury palaces without public oversight.
Ali, living in self-exile in Spain, has said that he is acting individually at his own risk.
But many observers have raised questions over whether he has supporters within Sisi’s government who are standing behind his calls for protests or even plotting a coup.