CAIRO -- On April 15, the largest protests Egypt had seen in years erupted over the government's decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. Emboldened activists called for more protests that many hoped would turn into nationwide demonstrations against the ruling regime. They were scheduled for Monday.

The protests, however, fizzled.

As army jets and helicopters zoomed in the sky in celebration of Sinai Liberation Day, which ironically marks the return of Sinai to Egypt after years of Israeli occupation, riot police barricaded entrances to downtown Cairo. That prevented protesters from entering both Tahrir Square, the site of the January 2011 uprising that ousted longtime autocrat  Hosni Mubarak, and the press union area, where the April 15 demonstrations had taken place.

Undeterred, the protesters spent the entire day shifting locations only to have their rallies shut down by security forces, who dispersed the gatherings with tear gas.

“We kept trying to stay, but the police would crack down so quickly the protest would end before it started,” said one protester, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The transfer of the Red Sea islands,  Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia was announced during a recent visit by Saudi Arabia's King Salman. Several economic deals amounting to $1.7 billion were brokered while the king was in Egypt, according to state newspaper El Ahram, so to many Egyptians, the handover of the islands seemed like a sale of Egyptian territory. But officials for both countries said that the islands were under Egyptian control only because Saudi Arabia had asked Egypt to protect them in 1950.

On Tuesday, a coalition of human rights groups declared that police had arrested 237 people. Some have been released, but many remain in custody. In the days leading up to the protest, security forces arrested more than 90 people, raiding homes and seizing people at street-side cafes, where young activists are known to spend evenings. The Egyptian press union also announced that 44 journalists had been arrested during demonstrations and that nine remain in police custody. The union said it would file a complaint against the interior ministry, accusing authorities of mishandling the journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrests. "Egyptian authorities appear to be determined to prevent any protests and any mention of forcibly dispersing these protests," said Sherif Mansour, the group's Middle East and North Africa coordinator.

In a televised speech on Sunday, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi urged citizens to “protect the country from the forces of evil."

The following day, as the protests against the government were trying to get started, hundreds of Sissi's supporters demonstrated across the city under the protection of the police. Some carried pictures of the president, danced to “boshret kheir,” a popular pro-Sissi anthem, and even waved Saudi flags.

“These are the true Egyptians, not the idiots who want to destroy Egypt,” shouted one shopkeeper, who gave a thumbs up as the demonstrators passed by.

The opposition protests ended at nightfall in Mesaha square in the leafy middle-class neighborhood of Dokki, where a few hundred people had congregated.

“I’m here not just for the islands,” one protester said before fleeing the riot police. “There are so many injustices in Egypt right now, and this regime is failing and betraying us every day. It must go.”

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