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Human Rights Watch calls on Egypt to protect right to peaceful protest

Protesters chant slogans calling for the removal of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in downtown Cairo on September 20, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Egyptian authorities to “protect the right to peaceful protest” after police arrested dozens of demonstrators who had participated in rare protests against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi over alleged government corruption.

On Friday night, hundreds of people took to the streets in central Cairo and several other Egyptian cities to express their strong dissent against President Sisi, a former military general-turned politician, calling for his removal from power.

However, the riot police were quick in breaking up the crowds, who were shouting “Leave, Sisi!” At least 74 demonstrators were arrested overnight.

“President Sisi’s security agencies have time and again used brutal force to crush peaceful protests,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at the HRW, in a statement on Saturday.

“The authorities should recognize that the world is watching and take all necessary steps to avoid a repetition of past atrocities,” he added.

Protests have become very rare in Egypt following a widespread crackdown on dissent under Sisi, who took power after ousting Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013 through a military coup. 

The US-based rights group also strongly called on Cairo to protect the right to peaceful protest in upholding Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law, urging the authorities to “immediately release all those arrested for solely exercising their rights.”

Friday’s protest rallies were held in response to an online call for Sisi’s resignation by Mohamed Ali, a former army contractor, who accused the president and the military of corruption.

The HRW further called on Sisi to “direct the state security forces to abide by international standards for law enforcement during demonstrations.”

There was heavy security presence in downtown Cairo and on Tahrir Square, where mass protests started in 2011, ending up in the downfall of veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Since Morsi’s overthrow, Egyptian authorities have been engaged in a persistent crackdown on dissent, killing hundreds and arresting thousands.

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