Violence Convulses Egypt as Toll Rises, U.S. Calls Off War GamesSalma El Wardany and Ola Galal
A main government installation near Cairo was attacked and 11 security personnel were gunned down in new eruptions of violence following the military-backed government’s deadly suppression of an Islamist protest. The U.S. canceled joint war games with Egypt to signal its outrage over a death toll that ballooned to almost 600.
Hundreds loyal to ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi attacked the governor’s offices in Giza near Cairo, some hurling firebombs and firing guns, governorate spokesman Amin Abdel-Moneam said today by phone. Clashes also erupted elsewhere across the riven nation as the violent breakup of two pro-Mursi protest camps deepened the fault lines Islamists and their rivals have drawn. Forces were told to use live bullets to fend off assaults on buildings or troops, the government said in an e-mailed statement. Islamists denied carrying out any attacks.
Mursi’s Islamist supporters, who say his July 3 overthrow by the military was illegal, vowed today to continue their protests until he is reinstated. Hamza Zawba, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, described the police raids on the encampments as “a massacre,” saying, “We have no option but to continue to demonstrate.”
Streets in Egypt’s ordinarily teeming capital of 19 million people were mostly deserted throughout the day and army vehicles were deployed in the streets around one of the disbanded encampments. Seven soldiers and four police officers were shot dead in the Sinai peninsula and outside Cairo, officials said. Egypt’s benchmark government bonds slumped for a second day and the nation’s default risk climbed.
Police charged into the camps after international efforts to mediate an end to the weeks-long standoff foundered. The government imposed a monthlong state of emergency after the raid, giving itself broader powers of detention, and imposed a curfew on large parts of the nation. The death toll rose to at least 578, with 4,201 hurt, state-run Middle East News Agency reported. The Muslim Brotherhood says the figure is much higher.
About 200 people had already been killed in violence between the opposing camps since Mursi’s removal.
The government warned it would end the unrest, saying it was “determined to face terror and sabotage acts commited by elements of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Zawba, the spokesman of the Freedom and Justice party, denied allegations the group attacked police stations, churches or any public installations as authorities claimed. He said the government staged the violence to discredit Islamists.
Bulldozers razed barricades at Rabaa square in Cairo, site of one of the two encampments, opening some side streets to traffic as army officers looked on. Its mosque, where a makeshift field hospital had been set up until police destroyed it, was charred. Small clouds of white smoke lingered inside, while bloodied sheets were scattered on the ground outside.
“Fire was coming from all directions, nobody knew what was happening,” said Wael Mohamed, 37, at the mosque where he took refuge yesterday. “The bombs they were throwing would land on somebody or something and burn them down.”
Army tanks and police armored vehicles were deployed in the streets around the mosque, and the two main roads that branch out from the square were still closed to traffic shortly before the curfew started at 7 p.m. local time. A soldier atop the mosque’s minaret was cheered by several onlookers as he took down a large poster of Mursi. Trucks were removing rubble and metal planks among other remains from the square.
About a mile (2 kilometers) away, a list bearing the names of at least 245 dead people hung outside the Imam mosque, where the wounded and corpses were taken after Rabaa was stormed. A woman sitting by a body asked God to take revenge on what she called the oppressors. At least three of the corpses were completely charred.
International outrage over the assault on the protest mounted, with the U.K., United Nations, Turkey and European Union denouncing the violence. President Barack Obama, interrupting his vacation to announce next month’s joint military exercise had been called off, said “we deplore violence against citizens.” He warned that Egypt’s military-backed government has embarked on a “dangerous path.”
The U.S., which has a decades-old alliance with Egypt’s army and provides it with more than $1 billion in annual aid, already postponed delivery of four fighter jets to Egypt and was re-evaluating other aid, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations.
The violent putdown of the protest created a rift within the government as well. Its most prominent member, Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned as vice president, saying he didn’t want to bear responsibility for “bloodshed that could have been avoided.” Yet there was no immediate evidence of a broader backlash.
“The military was always, and remains, the dominant political and economic force in the country,” said Ian Bremmer, founder of Eurasia Group, in an interview today on Bloomberg Surveillance. “You have a real metastasis of extremism on the ground. There are very few moderates left. What had been one of the most important moderating countries for stability in the Middle East is now in free fall.”
The turmoil sent Egypt’s benchmark government bonds slumping for a second day, with yields at a five-week high. The yield on 5.75 percent notes maturing in April 2020 rose 22 basis points to 9 percent at 5:55 p.m. in Cairo, the highest on a closing basis since July 9 and taking the two-day surge to 68 basis points.
Credit default swaps, contracts insuring the nation’s debt, have jumped 45 basis points in two days to 795, according to CMA data. The stock exchange was shut today after the central bank ordered banks to close.