Friday, April 15, 2016 11:36 pm
Thousands of Egyptians angered by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to hand over two islands to Saudi Arabia called on Friday for the government to fall, chanting a slogan from the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
Their protests clearly signaled that the former general, under mounting criticism now also for the struggling economy, no longer enjoys the broad public support that let him to round up thousands of opponents after he seized power in 2013.
Sisi’s government prompted an outcry in Egyptian newspapers and on social media last week when it announced a maritime demarcation accord last week that put the uninhabited Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi waters.
“The people want the downfall of the regime,” the protesters cried outside the Cairo press syndicate, using the signature chant of the 2011 revolt against then president Hosni Mubarak, who later stepped down.
They also chanted: “Sisi – Mubarak”, “We don’t want you, leave” and “We own the land and you are agents who sold our land.” In other parts of Cairo, police fired tear gas at protesters, security sources said.
Saudi and Egyptian officials say the islands belong to the kingdom across the Red Sea and were only under Egyptian control because Riyadh had asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.
Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states showered Egypt with billions of dollars in aid and grants after Sisi toppled freely elected President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 after mass protests against him.
But a sharp drop in crude prices and differences with Cairo over regional issues such as the war in Yemen have raised questions over whether their strong support is sustainable.
Egyptians are eager for an economic revival after years of political upheaval, but the islands issue seems to have hurt their national pride, and prompted thousands to return to the streets to challenge their leader.
Critics say the government has mishandled a series of crises from an investigation into the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, 28, in Cairo to a bomb that brought down a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula last October.
Torture marks on Regini’s body prompted human rights groups to conclude he died at the hands of security forces, which Egypt denies. That revived complaints of police brutality, one of the issues prompted Egyptians to challenge Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Sisi has made fighting corruption a top priority. But he drew fire last month after sacking Hesham Geneina, Egypt’s top auditor, who had stirred controversy by publicly concluding that state corruption had cost the country billions of dollars.