Thu, 17 Oct 2019

Cairo - Egypt's prime minister warned on Tuesday his government would not allow protesters to spread "chaos" after small rallies erupted against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last month.

The rare protests broke out in defiance of a ban on demonstrations after an exiled Egyptian businessman in Spain accused the president and the military of rampant corruption.

The rallies calling for Sisi's removal briefly struck a chord with Egyptians who have been bearing the brunt of stringent economic reforms introduced in 2016.

In his first official reaction in an address before parliament, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli denounced the protests as part of an external "brutal war" designed to create "confusion". He also warned of the dangers of any future large-scale dissent.

"The people of Egypt will not allow the scenario of chaos to be repeated again", Madbouli said, implicitly referring to the 2011 revolution that unseated long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Authorities have detained around 3 000 people over the last three weeks, including prominent academics, activists and lawyers.

Rights groups maintain the arrests are part of one of the worst crackdowns since Sisi took power in 2014.

Economic outlook

But Madbouli insisted "the state's agencies moved within the boundaries of the law", at the end of his 40-minute speech.

"I am praising Egypt's brave policemen who dealt with this matter decisively... We didn't hear of any breaches or any major problems in this issue", he said to loud applause from lawmakers.

Egypt passed a restrictive anti-protest law in 2013, after Sisi led the military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and a renewable state of emergency remains in force.

President Sisi regularly invokes his track record of bringing relative stability in a turbulent region and boosting the economic outlook after introducing harsh austerity reforms in 2016.

Egypt devalued the pound and slashed subsidies three years ago in its bid to secure a $12bn loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Foreign reserves have been replenished at record levels, reaching over $45bn last month and the pound's value is slowly rebounding.

However, prices have soared for the average citizen economically squeezing Egypt's burgeoning poor and middle-classes triggering discontent.

Madbouli acknowledged the economic pressures affecting Egyptians, but said that "building a country" was an arduous process requiring a large budget.

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