Cairo – Police and security vehicles were deployed at Tahrir Square in central Cairo on Saturday, a day after Egyptians took to the streets in rare protests against President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi.
Civil defence teams were seen using water cannon to flood the gardens of the iconic square, which was the epicentre of the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Cairo and other cities in Egypt saw small protests Friday night.
The demonstrators chanted slogans demanding the ouster of the ex-general, who took power in 2014, one year after he led the military overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
Protests are rare in Egypt amid a crackdown on opposition and freedom of expression under al-Sissi’s rule.
Thousands of secular and Islamist opposition figures have been detained or sentenced to prison.
The demonstrations came in response to calls by activists on social media, including Egyptian contractor and actor Mohamed Ali, who is in exile in Spain.
The 45-year-old contractor, who had worked on army projects for 15 years, posted a series of videos accusing al-Sissi and the military of corruption. He said the military had commissioned his company to build palaces and other “failed” projects that did not generate income for the people.
The videos came as Egyptians have been struggling with austerity measures introduced by al-Sissi’s government, which have triggered price hikes for goods and services.
Last week, al-Sissi – who is currently in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly – defended the military against the corruption claims.
“Yes, I have built palaces, and I will continue. They are not for me, they are for Egypt; I am building a new country,” al-Sissi said. “Your son, God willing, is honest and sincere.”
On Saturday, an international rights group called on Egyptian authorities to protect the right to peaceful protest and to immediately release those detained, hours after the protests against al-Sissi.
“President [al-Sissi] should direct the state security forces to abide by international standards for law enforcement during demonstrations,” Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.
Citing media reports, HRW said that security forces had chased and rounded up protesters and surrounded Tahrir Square.
“President [al-Sissi’s] security agencies have time and again used brutal force to crush peaceful protests,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
“The authorities should recognize that the world is watching and take all necessary steps to avoid a repetition of past atrocities,” he added.
On Friday, activist Wael Ghonim, an icon of the 2011 uprising, accused Egyptian security of kidnapping his brother Hazim.
Ghonim said he received a warning from the Egyptian embassy in Washington to stop posting anti-government videos on Facebook, and when he rejected the threat, his brother, who is a dentist, was detained afterwards.
In April, Egypt amended the 2014 constitution, allowing al-Sissi’s current second term to be extended from four to six years, to end in 2024.
He can also run for one more six-year term, potentially letting him stay in power until 2030.