CAIRO - Egyptian security forces arrested three political activists known for their outspoken criticism of Egypt's government and president, defense lawyers said Wednesday, amid an intensified crackdown on dissent following small but rare anti-government protests over the weekend.
The demonstrations erupted over corruption allegations earlier this month against the military and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, by an Egyptian businessman living in self-imposed exile. El-Sisi, who is currently attending the United Nations General Assembly, has dismissed the corruption allegations as "sheer lies."
Police quickly dispersed the protests, but they signified a startling eruption of street unrest. Demonstrations have been almost completely silenced in recent years, with those who dare take to the streets being quickly arrested and receiving lengthy prison sentences.
Attorneys Nour Farahat and Khaled el-Masry identified the three detained activists as Hazem Hosny, Hassan Nafaa and Khaled Dawoud.
Hosny and Nafaa are political science professors at Cairo University and were arrested Tuesday. Hosny also was a spokesman for the 2018 presidential campaign of Sami Annan, who served as chief-of-staff for former president Hosni Mubarak. Annan was detained in January last year.
Dawoud, a journalist and former head of the liberal al-Dustour party, was arrested Wednesday. Dawoud, Hosny and Nafaa have been brought before prosecutors, according to attorney Khaled Ali.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which oversees police, could not be reached for comment.
The short-lived protests impacted Egypt's stock exchange, which suspended trading for 30 minutes on Sunday, the first day of the country's work week, after its main index fell by 5 percent. After three days of losses, the exchange went up 3.22 percent Wednesday, according to the state-run MENA news agency.
Wave of arrests
Over the past week, authorities have conducted a wave of arrests, according to rights lawyers. The arrests came amid new calls for protests in the coming days on social media, from which Friday's demonstrators took their cue.
Over 1,200 people, including political activists, journalists and rights lawyers, were detained, el-Masry said.
Prosecutors have questioned at least 750 people about claims that they took part in activities of an outlawed group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, and disseminating false news, he said.
Prosecutors ordered the three activists to remain in custody for 15 days pending investigations into claims they, too, took part in activities of an outlawed group and disseminating false news.
Heavy security measures are still in place in Cairo, the capital, since the weekend, particularly around Tahrir Square. The square was the epicenter of the so-called Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
El-Sisi, a general-turned-president, led the 2013 military's ouster of an elected but divisive Islamist president amid mass protests against his brief rule. Since then, he has overseen an unprecedented crackdown, silencing critics and jailing thousands.