CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said Thursday his country has become “an oasis of security and stability” under his rule, amid reports of a new clampdown on dissent in the lead-up to the eighth anniversary of the 2011 pro-democracy uprising.
El-Sissi, who became president in 2014, spoke at the annual ceremony celebrating Police Day, which falls on Jan. 25. That's the same date that thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to begin a sweeping revolt that forced longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak to step down in 2011.
Meanwhile, human rights activists have complained that authorities are randomly stopping people in downtown Cairo, the epicenter of the 2011 uprising, for fear that similar demonstrations could erupt.
“The whole world has seen how Egypt has turned into an oasis of security and stability in only a few years,” el-Sissi told a large audience of government officials, commanders in the country's security apparatus and religious leaders in the lavish auditorium of Egypt's police academy in eastern Cairo.
“I will always value and take pride in the fact that you and your fellows in the armed forces are facing a fierce battle against dark terrorism," he said.
In 2013, el-Sissi, then defense minister, led the military’s overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, an elected but divisive president who hailed from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood. The nation's oldest and largest Islamist organization was outlawed and branded a terrorist group the same year. Since then, el-Sissi's government has been battling an Islamic insurgency, mainly in the Sinai Peninsula.
Last fall, thousands were arrested, including prominent academics, journalists and politicians following rare protests that erupted on Sept. 20 following corruption allegations leveled by a self-exiled businessman against the president and his military. Hundreds were subsequently released.
On Wednesday, the Interior Ministry issued a statement alleging that the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood was plotting to “spread chaos” and “undermine the country's stability” by using cyberspace to call for protests and rioting on Jan 25. The statement said authorities had arrested members of the Muslim Brotherhood and discovered several weapon caches. Plotters were coordinating their efforts with fugitive militants who reside in Turkey, the statement added.
In recent weeks, there have been calls on social media to take to the streets Saturday to protest el-Sissi's rule. More than the usual number of police vehicles have been been seen in and near downtown Cairo since last week.
“Downtown Cairo has turned into a military barrack. It is full of secret police who would stop anyone," said Mohamed Zaree, a human rights activist with the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. He said police were checking the smart phones of those arrested for any possible incendiary political content.
“What is going on definitely has to do with the upcoming anniversary of the Jan. 25 revolution,” said Zaree. “The regime is always scared that the Jan. 25 scenario might get repeated.”
Since el-Sissi's ascent to power, state officials and state-controlled media have spread the narrative that the 2011 uprising was the outcome of a conspiracy by the Brotherhood and its regional allies, namely Turkey and Qatar. His government even renamed the Jan. 25 national holiday as Police Day instead of The Revolution Day, in a move widely seen by the regime's critics as an attempt to erase the memory of that day.
However, in his Thursday speech, el-Sissi hailed the anniversary of the 2011 pro-democracy rallies as “a precious occasion.”
“Today coincides with the anniversary of the Jan. 25 revolution with its noble demands that the Egyptian citizen would lead a dignified life,” he said.