At least 74 supporters of Egypt’s ousted president were shot dead during clashes with security forces, officials said on Saturday, as rival rallies were staged for and against Mohamed Mursi.
In the heaviest bloodshed since Mursi’s July 3 overthrow, Ahmad Aref, spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood, said 66 people died in the violence and another 61 were left ‘clinically dead’.
The health ministry gave a death toll of 65 in Cairo and another nine in Alexandria since late Friday.
An AFP correspondent earlier counted 37 bodies in a field hospital at Cairo’s Rabaa al Adawiya Mosque, and the emergency services said other hospitals received an additional 29 corpses.
In the wake of the Muslim weekend bloodshed, Egypt’s interior ministry insisted security forces had not used live fire, and blamed the clashes on Islamists. Interior minister Mohammed Ibrahim, for his part, warned that pro-Mursi demonstrations, which his supporters have vowed to keep up until he is reinstated, would ‘soon’ be dispersed.
The latest violence erupted at dawn on Saturday outside the mosque, where Mursi supporters have been camped since the week before the military ousted him. State media and the interior ministry said police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters on the airport road, but witnesses told AFP that security forces fired live bullets.
By midday, medical workers began ferrying bodies wrapped in white shrouds to hospitals, carrying them on blood-soaked stretchers past a furious throng of Mursi loyalists.
Rival protests were likewise held on Friday in Alexandria, where the ministry said nine people were killed.
The Cairo violence was the deadliest since 53 Mursi supporters were killed outside the Republican Guard headquarters in the capital on July 8.
It prompted condemnation from Ahmed al Tayeb, the sheikh of Egypt’s key Muslim institution, al Azhar. He called for an ‘urgent judicial investigation’ and punishment of those responsible, “regardless of their affiliation.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, currently serving as vice president in a transitional government, condemned what he termed the ‘excessive use of force’.
International governments also joined the condemnation, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague urging “Egyptian authorities to respect the right of peaceful protest, to cease the use of violence against protesters, including live fire, and to hold to account those responsible.”
The EU urged ‘a rapid move to an inclusive transformation process’ that would include the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s interior ministry defended the actions of security forces, with spokesman General Hany Abdel Latif insisting that police ‘did not use more than tear gas’. He accused Mursi supporters of firing on the security forces, wounding 14 policemen, including two who were in critical condition after being shot in the head.
Interior minister Ibrahim said security forces would act to disperse the pro-Mursi demonstrations ‘in a legal fashion’ and ‘as soon as possible’. Security forces would seek to ensure ‘the minimum losses possible’, he said.
The bloodshed came hours after army chief General Abdel Fattah al Sisi called for a mass show of support for a crackdown on ‘terrorism’. Hundreds of thousands of anti-Mursi protesters obliged, thronging Cairo’s Tahrir Square and around the Itihadiya presidential palace.
But Mursi supporters said their turnout showed many “reject the bloody, military fascist coup that wants to set the wheel of history back.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2013.