Egyptian police have stormed the headquarters of the Journalists’ Syndicate in central Cairo and arrested two journalists on charges of inciting protest rallies against the government.
Officers stormed the press labor union building in downtown Cairo on Sunday and arrested Amr Badr and Mahmud el-Sakka.
Badr heads the Arabic-language opposition website Bawabet Yanayer (January Gate), whose name is a reference to the 2011 popular uprising against long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak. Sakka works for the same organization.
Mahmoud Kamel, a member of the syndicate board, said more than 40 policemen raided the building, even though the Interior Ministry put the number of police officers involved at only eight.
He added that a security guard sustained injuries in the eye as police raided the press syndicate office.
“There was an arrest warrant for the two journalists issued a week ago; but the syndicate was discussing the matter with the Interior Ministry,” he said.
Khalid al-Balshy, another syndicate board member, said, “The incident is true and at the very least the interior minister (Ahmed al-Zind) has to be fired and there needs to be an apology.”
Dozens of journalists later staged a new sit-in at the headquarters of the Journalists’ Syndicate to express their opposition to the arrests.
A judicial source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the pair had been wanted by prosecutors for inciting anti-government rallies.
Sakka had reportedly announced plans to join an anti-government protest against Cairo’s decision to hand over two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
The Egyptian government has been under fire since it announced in a statement on April 9 that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir fall within the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia based on a maritime border agreement signed with Riyadh the previous day.
Leader of the opposition Egyptian Popular Current, Hamdeen Sabahi, has already filed a 10-page complaint at a Cairo administrative court over the contentious deal.
The senior opposition politician said he possesses documents that prove the islands, Tiran and Sanafir, are Egyptian territory and cannot be transferred to Saudi Arabia.
Legal experts and other opposition figures, including exiled politician Ayman Nour, and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood movement have also cast doubt on the legitimacy of the agreement between Cairo and Riyadh, arguing that relinquishing authority over Egyptian territory is unconstitutional.
On April 15, thousands of people took part in mass demonstrations against handing the sovereignty of Tiran and Sanafir islands over to Saudi Arabia. Egyptian riot police forces arrested dozens of protesters.
Tiran Island is located at the entrance of the Straits of Tiran, which separate the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba. Its strategic significance lies in the fact that it is an important sea passage to the major ports of Aqaba in Jordan and Eilat in Israel.
Israel briefly took over the island during the Suez Crisis in late 1956, and once more between 1967 and 1982 following the Six Day War.
Sanafir Island is in the east of Tiran Island, and measures 33 square kilometers (13 square miles) in area.
The ownership of the two islands was handed to Egyptian control in 1982, when Tel Aviv and Cairo signed the so-called Camp David peace accords.