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May 6, 9:24 AM EDT

Prominent rights lawyer arrested in Egypt over protests

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AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

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CAIRO (AP) -- A prominent Egyptian rights lawyer who had raised a legal suit against the president's decision to hand two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia was arrested early on Friday and ordered held in custody for 15 days, pending investigation into a list of allegations, including plotting a coup.

Malek Adly's detention came amid a wave of arrests in Egypt as security forces put down protests against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi decision on the islands. Adly, a member of the April 6 youth movement that was part of the uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has appeared on TV talk shows, speaking out against the islands' handover. He was also among a group of lawyers who filed a lawsuit over the case of the islands.

Two others from the group were also arrested. They were detained in a police raid of the Journalists' Syndicate on Sunday, which sparked protests by hundreds of journalists who called for Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar's dismissal and a presidential apology.

Both el-Sissi and Abdel-Ghaffar have ignored the demands. The interior minister on Thursday attended the inauguration of a mega project for land reclamation hailed by el-Sissi as one of his "unprecedented" achievements. In his half-an-hour speech at the event, el-Sissi repeated several times, "I am not afraid" - a statement observers believe was meant for his critics.

The army chief-turned-president el-Sissi has orchestrated one of Egypt's largest ever crackdowns on dissidents following the military's ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. A draconian anti-protest law issued months later led to mass arrests of thousands of protesters, mostly Morsi's supporters or pro-democracy advocates. The law and heavy-handed security measures have stifled street demonstrations.

However, on April 15, nearly 3000 protesters rallied in Egypt to denounce the handover of the Tiran and Sanafir islands. The deal took many Egyptians by surprise, especially since it came during Saudi king's visit to Egypt, during which several multi-billion dollar deals were struck.

El-Sissi and the government have defended the decision by saying the islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba were Saudi territory and that the kingdom asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them from Israel.

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