Riot police and armored vehicles filled the otherwise empty streets of central Cairo early on Friday as security forces built up a heavy presence ahead of popular protests over deteriorating economic conditions.
A little-known group calling itself "Movement of the Poor" has called for Egyptians to protest on Nov. 11 against deepening austerity.
The calls had been made since August, but gained traction on social media last week after Egypt raised fuel prices and floated its currency - a move welcomed by bankers but bemoaned by ordinary people as the latest blow to their diminishing spending power in a country that relies on imports.
Security was stepped up at Cairo International Airport and in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt's 2011 popular uprising and Hisham Barakat Square, formerly known as Rabaa al-Adiwaya Square, the scene of 2013's infamous "Rabaa massacre."
Tahrir Square was empty save for armored vehicles equipped with tear gas canister launchers, dozens of riot policeman and high-ranking officers. Authorities shut down the Sadat metro station to prevent demonstrators 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."
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and authorities took no chances, accusing Muslim Brotherhood of engineering the protests to cause chaos. Dozens of people were detained in recent weeks for allegedly inciting unrest.
Last Monday, el-Sissi held a high-level meeting with security officials, including the ministers of defense and interior and intelligence chiefs. He called for "vigilance" ahead of Friday's planned protests, which were called for by critics of the el-Sissi regime to protest skyrocketing inflation and rampant unemployment.
Addressing the public last month, el-Sissi, a former army chief who ousted Egypt's first freely-elected president in a 2013 military coup said the planned protests would fail. In recent months, public anger has mounted in Egypt as basic commodity prices have continued to climb, with many blaming the el-Sissi regime for mishandling the economy.
Since 2011, Egypt has faced a crippling economic crisis caused mainly by acute hard-currency shortages in the local market and declines in tourism, foreign investment and exports, the result of ongoing political turmoil. Last week, the Egyptian pound lost almost half of its value when the central bank devalued the local currency in an effort to rein in a flourishing black market for dollars.
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