Egyptian security forces were heavily deployed on the streets of Cairo on Friday in anticipation of nationwide protests against economic austerity measures in the country.
The protests have been called by a little-known group calling itself Movement of the Poor, urging Egyptians to take to the streets over deepening austerity.
The Egyptian government has floated the local currency and raised fuel prices in order to qualify for a $12 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund, a loan that was scheduled for approval by the IMF on Friday.
The reforms have earned praise from the IMF and the international business community, but they have also spawned rising prices and costs of living for an already frustrated Egyptian population.
Tahrir Square was empty save for armoured vehicles equipped with tear gas canister launchers, dozens of riot policeman and high-ranking officers. Authorities shut down the Sadat metro station to prevent protesters from reaching the square famed for its political protests.
There was a similarly heavy security presence in other areas of Cairo, such as the Shubra district, and other major cities across the country including Alexandria, Suez, and Minya.
“Between you and me, this is good,” said Shenouda Ishak, a driver in Shubra. “I don’t think anything will happen but this security presence scares people and ensures nothing does.”
It was unclear if protests would go ahead on Friday as they have won little support from prominent activist and opposition groups, though they have been backed by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
But in a country where street politics helped unseat two presidents within two years, authorities are taking no chances. Dozens of people were detained in recent weeks for allegedly inciting unrest.
Protesters camped in Tahrir Square in an 18-day demonstration ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in 2011. When Egyptians took to the streets again in mid-2013 to end a year of Brotherhood rule, they looked to general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to restore stability.
However many ordinary Egyptians and activists believe the heyday of street politics is over. After taking power, Sisi quickly crushed dissent and has applied a protest law so strictly that few dare to come out, despite rising public anger.
In recent weeks, the president has urged Egyptians not to protest and warned that there would be no going back on economic reforms, no matter how much pain they might cause.
State media reported that police were surrounding the entrances of Cairo and other cities to ensure that members of the Brotherhood did not sneak in.
“Police have surrounded the entrances of Cairo, Giza, and Qalyubiya to prevent the terrorist group’s elements from sneaking into any potential demonstrations heeding these call dubious calls and creating chaos,” the state news agency said.
The interior ministry said on Thursday that it confiscated a cache of arms and ammunition hidden in a graveyard and house by the Brotherhood in Fayoum province, southwest of Cairo.
It also said it raided five bomb factories around the country on Wednesday, accusing a militant group of coordinating with the Brotherhood to attack police checkpoints on the eve of the protest