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Authorities make at least 500 arrests amid heightened security presence

Over 500 people have been arrested and brought before prosecuting authorities in Cairo and elsewhere in the country since the outset of October, several lawyers told Mada Masr, while a heightened security presence remains deployed over public spaces as part of a response to calls to protest on November 11.

Some of those detained have described being beaten by security personnel upon arrest or having their eyes covered for several days before being presented to the prosecution, said one of the lawyers, requesting anonymity out of their concern to preserve their capacity to represent clients. Defense lawyer Ahmed Nazir al-Helw was detained amid the crackdown, in a step that colleagues have described as “terrifying news” for all lawyers whose work brings them before terrorism circuit courts.

During questioning, the first lawyer said, detainees have been presented with videos and recorded audio messages they published online to express criticism of the government in relation to surging prices and deteriorating living conditions, or for inviting the public to participate in the “11-11” demonstrations.

Detainees have been described by multiple legal professionals and advocacy organizations as being investigated on charges that include “incitement to commit terrorist acts on November 11,” “joining a terrorist group,” and “spreading false news.”

Thirty-two people who were arrested over the course of Thursday and Friday in Alexandria were ordered detained for 15 days by the East Alexandria Public Prosecution pending investigation, said lawyer Mohamed Ramadan.

As well as those arrested in Alexandria over the weekend, former political activist and Bread and Freedom Party member Ziad Aboul Fadl went missing from the city after leaving his home on Friday evening, deputy founder of the party Elham Eidaros told Mada Masr.

Aboul Fadl was held in remand detention for almost two-and-a-half years until his release in August 2021 and has since withdrawn from political and public life, said Eidaros.

Lawyers speaking to Mada Masr have noted the difficulty in establishing exactly how many arrests have been made, since many who are arrested from their homes, workplaces or the streets are held for over 24 hours at Central Security Forces camps as opposed to being brought before regular prosecutors immediately.

Calls for demonstrations to be held on November 11 emerged and circulated on social media as early as September, citing bleak economic conditions and other grievances. Among them was a video published by self-exiled actor and former military contractor Mohamed Ali, who rose to fame in 2019 via a YouTube channel which he used to call for protests within Egypt in both 2019 and 2020.

As a campaign to support the call circulated on social media, authorities deployed a heightened security presence across the country. Over the weekend, streets and squares across Cairo and the governorates lay empty, the majority of shops and cafes closed their doors, events were canceled and public transport services were reported “closed for maintenance.” Later on Friday, the Cabinet denied what it referred to as “rumors” circulating around the closure of public spaces and transportation.

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