Cairo, Egypt – The aftermath of the early morning clashes that left scores of Muslim Brotherhood supporters dead in Nasr City has made one thing clear: Under the cover of night, anything can happen in Cairo.
A pro-military rally was called by General Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who said a big turnout on Friday would give him a mandate to crackdown on “terrorism”. The demonstrations were meant as a show of military strength in order to buttress Sisi’s promise of stability.
But even as a huge pro-military rally took place on the other end of the 6 October Bridge with a carnival-like atmosphere, the scene for carnage was being set in Nasr City.
In the early hours of Saturday, a group holding a vigil for the reinstatement of deposed president Mohamed Morsi was attacked by security forces, according to witnesses. The massacre left at least 60 dead, according to the Health Ministry. Some reports put the number of dead at more than 100.
What seems to have triggered the clashes was the expansion of the vigil from Nasr City where the stinging smell of tear gas remained in the air hours after the killings.
“I saw [anti-Morsi] thugs over the pedestrian bridge [over Nasr Street, at the base of the 6 October onramp] – police were there, but they didn’t do anything,” said Emad Ibrahim, 28, a pro-Morsi demonstrator.
“Police deployed tear gas and [were] shooting rubber bullets, so we began retreating [to centre of the vigil] when police started firing live ammunition,” said Ibrahim.
Attiyah Ahmad, a doctor at one of the field hospitals set up in Nasr City, where thousands of pro-Morsi supporters remain camped out on told Al Jazeera that 38 people died in his emergency room alone.
He said he’d been dealing with “shoot-to-kill” wounds.
“They knew what they were doing – shooting from the chest up. Most people are shot in the head. They were also aiming for the heart,” the doctor said.
Ahmed Aref, spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, called the shootings a “massacre” and vowed that those responsible for the killings would be prosecuted
Pro-Morsi sit-ins to be dispersed
At a press conference in Cairo on Saturday, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim denied the use of live ammunition on protesters in Nasr City.
“The Interior Ministry has never shot a bullet towards any Egyptian,” he said, adding that two police officers remained in critical condition after being shot in the head by Morsi supporters who were trying to block the 6 October Bridge.
Ibrahim also said that 72 were detained in Nasr City on Saturday. The pro-Morsi sit-ins, he said, will be dispersed by security forces although he did not say exactly how or when this would happen.
The other pro-Morsi vigil, in front of Cairo University in Giza, remained peaceful and the pro-military rally – which stretched from Tahrir Square all the way to Maspero – took place under a heavy security presence.
Loai Nagati, 22, said that he participated in the pro-military rally in Tahrir Square on Friday in order to “encourage the police and the military to clear out the MB (Muslim Brotherhood)”.
News of the deaths in Nasr City did not change his mind, as Nagati, a computer scientist, is staunchly anti-Muslim Brotherhood. “I want them to stop what they are doing, not just with the sit-ins, but with their marches, blocking roads, clashing with people, the killing. Do you see what they are doing?” he said.
He added that he did not feel his participation gave the military a mandate to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood as it sees fit. “I only want to encourage them [the military], and to send a message to MB to end what it is doing.”
Mohamed Zaree, Egypt Programme Manager for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, says that the large turnout at the pro-military rally indicates that “people believe that the only way to defeat the Muslim Brotherhood is to be in alliance with the military.”
The violence, he said, might not be part of Sisi’s “anti-terrorism” mandate. However, Zaree added that the clashes and the mandate weren’t entirely unrelated, as the call for nation-wide pro-military rallies was, itself, an incitement to violence for both sides.
Do you see any danger here? Do you see any fighting? Do you see what El Sisi did?
After General Sisi called for demonstrations earlier this week in the name of fighting “terrorism” a coalition of Egyptian human rights groups issued a letter lambasting the comments.
“Current Egyptian legislation includes provisions which clearly criminalize all acts of terrorism,” the seven groups said in a statement. “Not only is Egyptian law sufficient in this area, but some of these laws exceed the legitimate grounds for combating terrorism by criminalizing acts which should be protected as forms of freedom of expression.”
The current cycle of violence is sure to continue unless the Muslim Brotherhood and the military negotiate, zaree said. They need to be held accountable for their actions since the start of the January 2011 revolution which saw the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak.
“That is the only way to restore the rule of law in Egypt – it’s our only way out of this,” Zaree said.
But whatever the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in the violence, the mood at the vigil on Saturday alternated between grief, shock and fury.
“Do you see any danger here? Do you see any fighting? Do you see what El Sisi did?” said Einas Ahmad Mustafa, 55, who is among those maintaining the vigil in what now essentially resembles a refugee camp in the east of the Cairo Governorate. Protesters, including Mustafa, have vowed to keep up the pressure on the military in support of Morsi.
“Most Egyptians support us,” said Mustafa, who works at the Youth Athletic Authority. “They want an Egypt with rules. But Sisi – he doesn’t believe in rules.”
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