Egypt briefly detains three over alleged sabotage talk

The detainees were speaking in English about burning homes and businesses on the anniversary of the January 2011 uprising

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Cairo police briefly detained three Egyptians, including two with British citizenship, after a man told them he overheard them discussing ways to destabilize the country during next month’s anniversary of the 2011 uprising, a security official and a British diplomat said Sunday.

The Egyptian official said that a brother and sister, both Egyptians with British nationality, and their Egyptian cousin were apprehended at a subway station Saturday night after a passenger told police they were speaking in English about burning homes and businesses on the anniversary of the January 2011 uprising which led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

The three denied the accusations and the case was referred to prosecutors, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

A British diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations said the British nationals were provided consular assistance and were subsequently released. It was not immediately clear if the Egyptian was also released or if the case was closed.

The British Embassy in Cairo has been closed to the public since last week because of security fears.

Since the 2011 uprising, successive governments have stoked fear of foreigners, warning the public that a myriad of “foreign hands” have been behind attempts to destabilize the country. At one point in 2012, a public service announcement was played on national television warning Egyptians against talking to foreigners, including in public places, for fear they would be spies.

This has increased citizen accusations against unsuspecting foreigners, including one that led to the brief detention of a prominent French journalist last month who was speaking to two Egyptians in a downtown Cairo coffee shop. A woman in the cafe screamed after hearing their conversation in English and Arabic and reported them to nearby security forces.

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