Egyptian Crackdown on Mursi Supporters Leaves Dozens DeadMaram Mazen and Maher Chmaytelli
Dozens of supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi were killed in clashes with police as the new rulers seek to consolidate control over the country and put an end to attacks on the armed forces.
In Cairo, 75 pro-Mursi Egyptians were killed yesterday and early today and more than 1,000 injured, the state-run Middle East News Agency said. Most were shot, MENA said, citing medics at a field hospital in Rabaa el-Adawiya Square, where Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood backers have held rallies since he was ousted by the military and detained on July 3. The Health Ministry said violence in the square itself during the early hours of today left 20 dead and 177 injured, MENA reported.
Egyptian judicial authorities yesterday extended Mursi’s detention for 15 days after accusing him of conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in murders, abductions, jailbreaks and other attacks on the country’s security buildings, MENA said. The military said the day before that it would use new tactics against violence and terrorism starting today, without giving details.
“What’s happening right now is an ugly massacre,” Omar Talaat, a doctor at the field hospital, told al-Jazeera TV.
As the military’s deadline loomed, thousands of Mursi backers rallied in Cairo and other cities including Alexandria, while tens of thousands of his opponents met in the capital’s Tahrir Square and near the presidential palace.
The gatherings yesterday followed a call the previous day by military chief Abdelfatah al-Seesi for Egyptians to take to the streets to give the armed forces and police a broad mandate to combat violence.
Al-Seesi’s request for Egyptians to rally was “designed to reframe the conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood as a war on terror,” Hani Sabra, Middle East director at the Eurasia Group in New York, said in an e-mailed statement.
Mursi’s backers vowed today to press ahead with their demonstrations against what they call a “coup.”
“The massacres and crimes committed against the free Egyptian people will not scare them and they will continue to protest peacefully until the coup is reversed and coup-ist leaders are brought to justice,” the Anti-Coup Alliance, comprising Brotherhood members and Islamist parties, said today in a statement in English.
Mursi has been held at an undisclosed location since his ouster, which followed street protests against his rule by those who accused him of pursuing an Islamist agenda. His supporters have held daily demonstrations since his removal by the army, demanding the former president’s reinstatement. Before the latest violence, almost 100 people had died in clashes since Mursi was deposed.
Thousands gathered yesterday by the presidential palace in Heliopolis, site of one of the rallies called by al-Seesi, as military helicopters hovered above. People waved Egyptian flags and carried posters of al-Seesi while chanting “Come down Seesi, you’re our president.”
“He wanted the authority and we’re giving it to him,” said 26-year-old Ayman Rizkalla. “Egypt is for all of us, not just the Islamists who were taking us to hell.”
The unrest has roiled the country’s markets. Yields on Egypt’s 5.75 percent bonds maturing April 2020 rose 4 basis points to 8.60 percent yesterday, bringing this week’s increase to 15 basis points, the most in a month.
Detaining “a legitimate president” without the presence of his lawyers “shows the nature of the military regime,” Essam El-Erian, vice chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said yesterday on his Facebook page.
Opponents of the Brotherhood, including youth groups and secular-leaning parties, accuse Islamists of deadly violence, including a surge in attacks by militants in the Sinai peninsula against military and police positions. Several armed supporters of Mursi were detained this week as they tried to attack a rival sit-in in Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, state-run media reported.
Clashes in Alexandria yesterday left seven people dead, Ahram Gate reported, citing Khalid el-Khatib, a senior official at the Health Ministry. A total of nine people were killed nationwide yesterday, MENA said. Police clashed with Mursi’s supporters in Cairo when they tried to block key roads serving the capital, the news agency said.
“It’s becoming increasingly untenable for president Mursi to be detained for almost a month now without being charged with anything,” putting pressure on the authorities to announce a judicial process has begun, Yasser el-Shimy, a Cairo-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, said yesterday by phone. “It’s likely to inflame the sentiments of the pro-Mursi crowd.”
Mursi was accused of escaping and assisting others to escape from Wadi al-Natrun jail, where he was detained before the 2011 uprising, according to a judicial statement yesterday. He was questioned over the allegations and was presented with evidence, MENA said.
President Barack Obama’s administration, in a move that may protect U.S. aid to Egypt, has concluded that it doesn’t have to make a formal determination on whether Mursi’s ouster was a coup, a State Department official said.
Making such a determination, which potentially would have required cutting off aid, wouldn’t be in the U.S. national interest, State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said yesterday. Egypt is a stabilizing force in the region, and it’s to the U.S.’s advantage to continue providing aid, she said.
Obama had asked U.S. agencies on July 3 to review whether Mursi’s removal required halting about $1.5 billion in U.S. aid, of which $1.3 billion is military assistance. A U.S. law requires the denial of “any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup d’etat or decree,” or a coup “in which the military plays a decisive role.”
“Our national security interests influence our policy as it relates to aid with Egypt,” Psaki told reporters at a State Department briefing. “We reviewed the legal obligations and determined we did not need to make a determination one way or the other.”