Egypt releases 3 foreigners arrested 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 — Two Jordanians and a Sudanese arrested in Cairo amid the recent crackdown that followed anti-government protests demanding Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi step down were released and flown back to their home countries, airport officials said Thursday.

Recent mass arrests followed scattered protests that erupted Sept. 20 in Cairo and several provinces in the wake of corruption allegations leveled by an Egyptian businessman living in self-imposed exile against the president and the military. El-Sissi dismissed the accusations as "sheer lies." According to lawyers, more than 2,000 people, including 111 children and several foreigners, were rounded up.

Last Friday, police barricaded bridges and roads leading to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the pro-democracy uprising that drove longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011, to pre-empt calls for a second wave of protests.

Sufian Qudah, spokesman for Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, said late Wednesday that Egyptian authorities decided to release Abdel Rahman Ali Hussein and Thaer Hossam Matar, who were among the arrested. He said they were released due to “intensive talks” and “fraternal relations” between Jordanian officials and their Egyptian counterparts.

Earlier this week, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry summoned Egypt’s ambassador in Khartoum to voice concern over the arrest of university student Walid Abdel Rahman Soliman. Soliman’s family had told local Sudanese press that he went to Cairo to study German and had no connections with the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt’s government has outlawed as a terrorist and holds responsible for the recent unrest.

Videos in which each of the three foreigners purportedly confessed that they came to Egypt to instigate and document an upcoming uprising, were aired on a Saudi-funded satellite channel by a prominent Egyptian pro-government TV news talk show host following the arrests. The video clips have reignited debate over violations of detainees’ human rights in Egypt.

“Those who arrested them and forced them to go on tape with these confessions should be interrogated,” said Mohamed Zaree, Egypt country director for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “Their arrest was to serve the narrative that there is an international and regional conspiracy to shake Egypt’s stability.”

The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights said early Thursday that 2,661 people have been arrested and questioned by prosecutors over the latest protests. The detainees have been accused of links to the Muslim Brotherhood, spreading false news, misusing the social media and engaging in a non-authorized protest, according to ECESR Facebook page.

Meanwhile, two senior security officials said more than 400 people were recently freed after it was proven that they had no links to the outlawed group. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with reporters.

However, rights lawyer Khaled el-Masry refuted this figure, saying only dozens, mostly juveniles, were released.

“Arbitrary arrests are still going on every day and everywhere in a horrendous way,” said Masry.

The scattered protests were a startling, if brief sign of popular discontent. Egypt has witnessed an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since el-Sissi came to power in 2014, with the jailing of Islamists as well as secular activists, while his government has put through austerity measures badly hitting the country's poor and middle classes.

In his first remarks following the protests, el-Sissi said earlier this week he would do more to protect poor and middle-class Egyptians. Also, the speaker of the state-controlled parliament Ali Abdel-Al, said that political reforms were underway.

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Associated Press writers Omar Akour in Amman and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

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