Egypt spent the equivalent of £1.7m on 140,000 US-sourced teargas canisters last month, despite the Egyptian government nearing bankruptcy – and amid a wave of police brutality that 21 human rights groups this week labelled a return to Mubarak-era state repression.

Egypt's interior ministry made the emergency order at the end of January, according to records retrieved by Egyptian broadsheet al-Masry al-Youm. It came at the start of a week of civil unrest sparked by protests against President Mohamed Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood, and police malpractice.

Opposition activists have questioned the government's willingness to buy the teargas at a time when Egypt's foreign reserves have more than halved since 2011, the government has run out of money to pay for fuel subsidies, and officials have yet to agree the details of a much-needed and much-delayed IMF loan worth $4.8bn.