Egyptian police disperse rare, small protests; 10 arrested

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Egyptian police dispersed exceptionally rare, small street protests that erupted in a northeastern province on Friday and arrested 10 demonstrators, a security official said.

The development — an unusual show of defiance in a country that has moved to stamp out nearly all dissent — comes one year after allegations of military corruption touched off a wave of anti-government protests in Cairo and several other cities.

According to the official, dozens of residents of Shata, a working-class village in the Mediterranean province of Damietta, joined the protest as they poured out of mosques after Friday midday prayers. The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He did not elaborate on how police managed to quell the protests, beyond saying they have arrested “rioters.”

Video clips that circulated on social media during the day show what appear to be protesters in several location marching in the streets against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. The footage could not be independently verified.

In the southern city of Luxor, police also arrested four people who had “intended to spark riots” for possession of Molotov cocktails, another security official said. He also spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason as his colleague.

In the years after el-Sissi led the military’s removal in 2013 of the country’s first democratically elected yet divisive Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, his government has launched an unprecedented crackdown, silencing critics and arresting thousands.

Last September, Mohamed Ali, a former Egyptian military contractor and self-proclaimed whistleblower living in exile in Spain, kindled a series of street protests with widely-watched videos that accused the government of wasting funds on lavish projects. His rants infuriated many poor and middle-class Egyptians squeezed by years of austerity measures that have them struggling to pay for basic goods.

The protests were swiftly quashed. Thousands of people landed in jail, according to lawyers’ estimates.

In late August, el-Sissi drew scorn on social media when, during a fiery speech about the need to eradicate illegal housing nationwide. He defended his policies and said that if people didn’t agree with them, “I can just leave.”

Soon, a hashtag started trending on Twitter asking him to do just that. Early this month, when bulldozers rolled into an impoverished, informal settlement in the northern seaside city of Alexandria, residents thronged the street to block the wrecking crews, chanting against the government, according to videos streamed live and shared widely on YouTube.

For the past week, which marks the anniversary of the limited protest movement sparked by Ali’s corruption allegations, videos have shown small, scattered protests breaking out across mostly poor and rural provinces.

Meanwhile, pro-government Egyptian news outlets on Friday flooded their websites with images of empty streets and intersections across the country “without any demonstrations.” State-run media accuses the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, branded as a terrorist organization, of fomenting the protests to undermine the country’s stability.

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