NEW DELHI: This week, confrontation broke out between Egyptian protesters and police, as 50 activists, including leading leftist dissidents, gathered suddenly at a city centre square. Police responded with tear gas as the protesters threw rocks, leading to hundreds of people being arrested, including prominent journalists.

Following the arrests, Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, accused Egypt of "crushing freedom of peaceful assembly" and "violating other rights." "The authorities say they are restoring stability and security, but their paranoia has created a real blind spot and appears to have rendered them incapable of distinguishing between peaceful demonstrations and genuine security threats."

Amongst the 300 or so people arrested, were 44 journalists, prompting a statement from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that condemned the arrests of journalists, and added that Egypt was "the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide in 2015."

Police had also arrested dozens of people prior to the scheduled demonstration, after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the police and army all issued warnings against “attempts to disturb security or break the country's laws,” which effectively ban protests without prior police permission.

"The Egyptian authorities appear to have orchestrated a heavy-handed and ruthlessly efficient campaign to squash this protest before it even began," Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said. "Mass arrests, road blocks and huge deployments of security forces made it impossible for peaceful demonstrations to take place."

Amnesty quoted a local activists' group as reporting the arrests of "at least 238 people, including foreign nationals, activists and journalists".

Earlier this month, thousands of people marched in the biggest anti-government demonstrations since Sisi took office in 2014, shouting slogans such as "Down with the regime" and "Leave". Both these slogans were used during the 2011 revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian president has come under a lot of criticism, despite once being lauded as “icon of the revolution” by the military-installed government. A demarcation agreement that led to the handover of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia during King Salman’s recent visit to Cairo has been the subject of much public debate and consternation.

Egypt, however, bans most protests, with the gesture to defy the ban being an open challenge to Sisi’s heavy handed rule. Amnesty said many of those arrested in the four days preceding the protest "have been remanded in custody on multiple charges, including breaching the counter-terrorism law".

Following the protests, in a televised address, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said "evil" forces were conspiring against the country but would not succeed. isi said there were "people calling once again for damage to [Egypt's] security and stability. "Our responsibility is to protect security and stability, and I promise Egyptians that no-one will terrorise them again."