Is Monday the Beginning of the End for Sisi in Egypt?

Egypt is bracing for something significant on Monday, a national holiday to mark the 1982 withdrawal of Israeli troops from Sinai.

It's possible not much will happen, that predicted demonstrations will be tiny or quashed, but President Sisi's government is obviously rattled and nervous that reaction against his handing over of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia will ignite widespread disruption across the country.

Sisi's agreeing to put the two uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir has hit an emotional nerve in Egypt, with thousands of people protesting in Cairo when the decision was announced last week. Over one hundred were arrested and demonstrators were tear gassed by police. Most ominously for Sisi, protesters chanted the 2011 phrase "The people demand the downfall of the regime" in an echo of the mass uprising which toppled President Mubarak in 2011.

The authorities, clearly worried that Monday will see a repeat of street protests, have reacted by arresting people in Alexandria, Upper Egypt and randomly in Cairo cafes believed to be fashionable with activists.

Some human rights defenders are taking precautionary measures out of fear of being arrested or disappeared. The Cairo-based NGO the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, which has documented hundreds of disappearance cases in the last year, has closed its head office temporarily and relocated to a secret location to carry out its work. An arrest warrant was issued for prominent human rights lawyer Malek Adly on Saturday April 23.

"Monday might not be much in itself, but it could snowball," said one activist.

Activist Yasser El-Qot is being held in detention on suspicion of distributing fliers calling for protests on Monday. Sanna Seif, who was released from prison in September 2015 after more than a year in jail for peaceful dissent, has been summoned to report to the South Cairo prosecution on April 27 on the same charges as El-Qot.

Egypt's security services, under increasing pressure to explain the death of Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose tortured body was found in early February, are clearly very nervous about how to respond to the possibility of large protests on Monday.

Much of Egypt seems to be simmering, the infatuation with Sisi fading, and last Tuesday unrest broke out in eastern Cairo soon after a policeman allegedly shot dead a tea vendor after refusing to pay for his tea, with hundreds of people demonstrating on the streets.

The following day U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry briefly visited Cairo. Despite an intensification of assaults on human rights activists and the targeting of NGOs, Kerry managed not to mention the words human rights in his public statement at all, opting for a heavily coded, contorted phrasing of how he and Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Showery and President Sisi had "talked about ways in which we can hopefully resolve some of the differences and questions that have arisen about the internal politics and choices for the people of Egypt."

Kerry isn't oblivious to Egypt's human rights crisis, but failing to acknowledge it publicly when in Cairo damages the U.S. government's credibility and enables the repression.

In January 2016 a Human Rights First report on Egypt noted that "this year will be a defining one as violent extremism, regional conflicts, and political and economic mismanagement threaten Egypt--and as President Obama shapes his legacy in the Middle East."

This year will also be a key test of Sisi, as the Egyptian economy continues to falter and terrorist attacks increase. Despite support from Washington and the Gulf countries (The United Arab Emirates just announced 4 billion USD to help bail out Sisi, added to sixteen billion USD from Saudi a few weeks ago) Sisi's days in power look numbered.

Monday April 25 could turn out to be a non-event, or it might mark the beginning of the end of his dictatorship.