Egyptian authorities on Saturday lifted some tight security measures in the capital, Cairo, a day after they sealed off the main square and downtown thoroughfares to thwart a possible protest against the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
The measures were part of a harsh security clampdown following rare demonstrations in several cities on Sept. 21 and 22, all of which were broken up by police.
Calls for fresh protests on Friday were largely stifled by the deployment of thousands of police in Cairo’s streets, but there was a small protest of at least three dozen people on El Waraq island on the northern fringes of the capital, which was quickly dispersed, according to three witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Security personnel were on Cairo’s main streets and squares on Saturday, but did not prevent normal traffic as in previous days. Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the pro-democracy uprising in 2011 that toppled then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, was reopened, as were subway stations in the area that had been closed the day before.
Last week’s protests against al-Sisi marked a startling eruption of popular dissent, which has been almost completely silenced in the past by measures imposed under the president.
More than 2,000 people were arrested in the days after, rights lawyers said.
The country’s general prosecutor said that his office had questioned no more than 1,000 people over the protests.
The lawyers said prosecutors ordered those who were questioned to remain in custody for 15 days pending investigations into claims that they took part in activities of an outlawed group and disseminating false news reports.
Among those arrested were foreign nationals, including a Palestinian belonging to the Islamic Jihad group, and a Dutch national, the general prosecutor said.
The Islamic Jihad movement confirmed Ashraf Tafesh’s membership and that he arrived in Egypt one day before the protests last week, but he was transferring in Cairo on his way “to another country to continue his studies.”
The president was greeted by hundreds of supporters at Cairo airport when he arrived on Friday from New York, where he attended the UN General Assembly.
With much of the city in lockdown, he sought to reassure people, saying that “there are no reasons for concern.”
On Saturday, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned a statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the protests, as “unacceptable.”
Bachelet expressed concern over “the lack of due process” following the arrests, referring to reports that those detained were denied legal representation and charged with “serious offenses.”
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