Egyptian security forces fired on pro-Morsi protestors in the early morning hours, killing dozens and wounding more than 1000.
Just hours before, hundreds of thousands of supporters of the military government had turned out in the streets to show their support for army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his efforts to crack down on the violence being generated by pro-Morsi supporters.
But then, in the pre-dawn hours, the police moved in on a group of several thousand anti-government demonstrators who were blocking a main artery in Cairo. What happened next is a matter of dispute as the interior minister says they began to receive gunfire from the crowd after firing tear gas to disperse them. The minister claims several security people were wounded. They also claim that the police “have never and will never shoot a bullet on any Egyptian.”
Most observers disagree:
Men in helmets and black police fatigues fired on crowds gathered before dawn on the fringes of a round-the-clock sit-in near a mosque in northeast Cairo, Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement said.
The bloodshed, near the military parade ground where President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, plunged the Arab world’s most populous country deeper into turmoil following two turbulent years of transition to democracy since veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak was swept from power.
Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref said 66 people had been killed and another 61 were “brain dead” on life support machines. More than 4,000 were treated for the effects of tear gas and gunshot or birdshot wounds, he told reporters.
“Innocent blood was spilled,” he said. “We have gone back 10 years.”
A Reuters reporter counted 36 bodies at one morgue, while health officials said there were a further 21 corpses in two nearby hospitals. The Health Ministry reported a total 38 dead.
Activists rushed blood-spattered casualties into a makeshift hospital. Some were carried in on planks or blankets. One ashen teenager was laid out on the floor, a bullet hole in his head.
“They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill,” another Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad El-Haddad, told Reuters in the early hours of Saturday. “The bullet wounds are in the head and chest.”
Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim accused the Brotherhood of exaggerating the death toll for political ends and denied that police had opened fire.
Ibrahim said local residents living close to the Rabaa al-Adawia mosque vigil had clashed with protesters in the early hours after they had blocked off a major bridge road. He said that police had used teargas to try to break up the fighting.
Well over 200 people have been killed in violence since the army toppled Mursi on July 3, following huge protests against his year in power. The army denies accusations it staged a coup, saying it intervened to prevent national chaos.
Some observers report seeing snipers on nearby rooftops. And as the New York Times reports, the accuracy of the shooters was, in many cases, uncanny:
In the morgue of the field hospital, 29 bodies sat in a row covered with white sheets. A medic, Mahmoud al-Arabi, said the wounds revealed a disturbing pattern of accuracy: many of the dead were shot in their head, chest or neck.
The Times also reports that a feared state security agency that existed during the Mubarak years was being reconstituted:
The interior minister on Saturday raised the prospect of a new threat to the Brotherhood, saying he was reconstituting a state security agency that under Mr. Mubarak, was responsible for monitoring Islamists and known for carrying out torture and forced disappearances.
Without security agencies that had a political focus, Mr. Ibrahim said, “the security of the country doesn’t work.”
Said without a hint of irony or self-awareness.
The violent crackdown by Genearl Sisi appears designed to force the Brotherhood’s supporters off the streets. This is absolutely necessary if Egypt’s economy is to get off the floor and begin to supply the basic needs of food and fuel to the people. The recent change in government unlocked billions of dollars in aid pledges from other Arab countries and helped stabilize an economy that was near meltdown:
Egypt’s new leaders, an interim civilian government installed by the military, have said that fixing the economy is high on the agenda. The civilian technocrats include Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, a liberal economist, and interim Finance Minister Ahmed Galal, an economist who managed the Economic Research Forum, a regional institution covering the Arab countries, and worked for 18 years with the World Bank, providing policy advice to countries in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.
But leaders have shown little sign they can muster the political will anytime soon to take on tough problems, including overhauling energy and food subsidies that account for about one-third of all government spending.
“There is a difference between managing the crisis to avoid complete bankruptcy and actually tackling real economic problems like structuring subsidies,” said Amr Adly, a political economist and postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.
The Brotherhood appears on the ropes today. But just a couple of years ago under Hosni Mubarak, they were even worse off. If the economy doesn’t improve, if the protests continue, if the military doesn’t follow through on their promises to democratize, who knows what events might transpire to bring the Muslim Brotherhood out of hiding and put them back on top?