Egypt: Lawyers say police arrested hundreds over protests

Protesters chant slogans against the regime in Cairo, Egypt, early Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Dozens of people held a rare protest in Cairo during which they called on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to quit. Security forces dispersed the protesters and no casualties were reported. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

CAIRO — Egyptian security forces rounded up hundreds of people following small but rare anti-government protests, rights lawyers said Monday.

The protests broke out in several Egyptian cities including the capital, Cairo, over the weekend, calling for President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to step down.

All protests were quickly broken up by police. But they marked a startling eruption of street unrest, which has been almost completely silenced the past years by draconian measures imposed under el-Sissi.

On Monday, lawyers Malek Adly and Khaled el-Masry said security forces had arrested at least 400 people in Cairo and elsewhere across the country.

El-Masry says prosecutors have questioned at least 220 people, over claims that they took part in activities of an outlawed group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood group, and disseminating false news.

The new protests emerge from an online campaign, led by an Egyptian businessman living in self-imposed exile who has presented himself as a whistleblower against corruption. His calls for demonstrations come at a time when Egypt's lower and middle classes have been badly squeezed by years of economic reforms and austerity measures.

The businessman, Mohammed Ali, has put out a series of viral videos claiming corruption by the military and government. His videos inspired others — often wearing masks to hide their identity — to post their own videos relating experiences with alleged corruption or mismanagement.

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