7/27/2013

Scores of Demonstrators Killed in Egypt

 
Armed civilians and police officers opened fire on protesters against Egypt’s new government Saturday, witnesses said, leaving at least 49 dead and casting doubt on prospects for a deal between the military and its Islamist opponents.
Clashes between the police and Mr. Morsi’s supporters erupted about 11:30 p.m. Friday. Witnesses said the police were trying to disperse protesters as they approached a central Cairo bridge, using tear gas at first, but then the officers, joined by armed civilians, fired birdshots and ultimately live ammunition to drive the protesters back.
By later Saturday morning the bodies of at least 29 protesters were seen laid out on concrete floors in a makeshift morgue, while there were 20 more dead at a nearby hospital. The Muslim Brotherhood put the death count at 70 people overall.
‘'They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill,'’ said Gehad El-Haddad, a spokesman for the Brotherhood.
The burst of violence came after a vast state-orchestrated display of military power Friday, with army helicopters hovering low over a huge throng of flag-waving, pro-military demonstrators in Tahrir Square and soldiers deploying in armored personnel carriers across the capital.
The crowds had turned out in Cairo and other Egyptian cities in response to a call by the defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, for mass demonstrations he said would give him a “mandate” to fight terrorism, a phrase widely understood to mean crackdowns on the Brotherhood.
The mass gathering was another blow to the Arab world’s most prominent Islamist group, which until recently was the major political force in government, having repeatedly won elections after the country’s uprising two years ago.
The Brotherhood and several Western and Arab diplomats had called for the military, which has held Mr. Morsi incommunicado since his ouster three weeks ago, to release him as a good-will gesture, in hopes of brokering a compromise that would end the standoff between Islamists and the military. That now seems almost impossible, analysts say, with indications that the military is carrying out investigations geared toward a broader legal assault on the Brotherhood.
“This is a preparation for eliminating the Brotherhood,” said Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo.
The Brotherhood responded defiantly on Friday, with pro-Morsi marches taking place along dozens of planned routes in Cairo and other cities. The group has continued to demand Mr. Morsi’s reinstatement as a precondition for any negotiations and labeled General Sisi’s plea for street demonstrations as a call to “civil war.” Its leaders insist that they are not seeking violence. Their marches, which regularly snarl busy Cairo streets, have become increasingly confrontational, setting the stage for the violent clashes overnight.
“Our blood and souls we will sacrifice for Islam,” some pro-Morsi protesters chanted, while others chanted his name and held posters bearing his face.
In Tahrir Square, by contrast, posters bearing General Sisi’s face bobbed above the crowd, amid a mood of aggressive nationalism that has gripped much of Egypt since the military removed Mr. Morsi. Crowds began gathering early in the day, with protesters hugging the soldiers guarding the entrances to the square and posing for pictures with them. Television networks delayed daytime serials broadcast during the holy month of Ramadan, to encourage people to join the anti-Brotherhood demonstrations.
The two protest camps also clashed on Friday in the port city of Alexandria, where seven people were reported dead and scores were injured.
Well over 100 people have been killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of the Brotherhood in the last month, including a polarizing episode on July 8 in which soldiers and police officers fired on Brotherhood members and killed 62.
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo and Gerry Mullany contributed from Hong Kong.