Scores killed as Egyptian military fires on demonstrators at Morsi rally

The death toll from clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi has risen to 72, the health ministry reported Sunday, as both sides appeared to harden their resolve and doubts grew about the chances for national reconciliation.

The bloodied and mangled bodies of dozens of Morsi’s Islamist supporters lined the floors of an improvised hospital in eastern Cairo after security forces launched an attack against demonstrators calling for Morsi’s reinstatement.

The Associated Press reported the revised death toll, citing the health ministry.

A court on Sunday ordered that 63 people be detained in connection with the previous day’s violence, Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported. The Muslim Brotherhood said that anti-Morsi residents had sparred with pro-Morsi protesters in the coastal city of Port Said during a funeral procession on Sunday morning.

State television reported that the committee tasked by the interim government with drafting articles for a new constitution had begun its work, having received roughly 400 amendment recommendations from various political and rights groups.

Supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi were fired upon by Egyptian troops sent to crack down on ongoing protests staged by his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

The overnight violence came a day after prosecutors said they were investigating the former president on allegations of espionage and murder, and millions took to the streets to heed the military’s call for Egyptians to give the armed forces the popular “mandate” to combat “terrorism.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, which supports Morsi, put the toll higher than the state’s account, saying that at least 120 people were killed and thousands were injured when police and plainclothes men opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas on demonstrators who had expanded their protest onto two major highways.

Morsi’s supporters said the military appeared intent on shooting them into submission — or even wiping them off the country’s political map, as judicial authorities leaked further allegations against Muslim Brotherhood leaders to local media.

But the overnight violence did little to clear the sprawling tent city of Morsi supporters in eastern Cairo’s Nasser City district, where many have camped for nearly a month. Demonstrators said Saturday they would stay put until Morsi resumed power, although many also said they anticipated further violence in the days ahead.

“You have people with a cause that they are unwilling to compromise on. The army’s backs are against the wall. The Islamists’ backs are against the wall. And it’s a standoff,” said Mohamed Soltan, an Egyptian American serving as a spokesman for the Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup, Pro-Democracy movement.

The political crisis was quickly moving beyond the point of negotiations and reconciliation between the ruling generals and the ousted leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Soltan said. The Muslim Brotherhood, he said, was losing control of its followers, who had grown increasingly angry.

“Whether the leadership negotiates or not, there’s blood on the ground,” he said. And to most people, “the leadership doesn’t matter anymore.”

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry warned of the political repercussions of Egypt’s ongoing crackdown.

“Violence not only further sets back the process of reconciliation and democratization in Egypt, but it will negatively impact regional stability,” Kerry said in a statement. “At this critical juncture, it is essential that the security forces and the interim government respect the right of peaceful protest, including the ongoing sit-in demonstrations.”

Interior Ministry activated

Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim on Saturday denied that his troops had fired on protesters, but he indicated that the country’s security forces planned to press on with a strategy to clear the pro-Morsi demonstrations that have shut down roads and squares in the capital since the July 3 coup.

“There is full coordination between us and the armed forces to determine the appropriate time to break up the Rabaa sit-in after the prosecution is done investigating complaints filed by area residents, so that there is a legal basis for it,” Ibrahim said, referring to the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in eastern Cairo, where the pro-Morsi camp is based. He said the protests would be dispersed “soon.”

In a signal of a broader crackdown, Ibrahim also said the state’s vast internal security apparatus, which had been handicapped after the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, would again begin monitoring political and religious activities, as it had under Mubarak.

Ibrahim said the “restructuring” of the Interior Ministry and the “abolition of certain departments” had allowed extremists to flourish. “Safety cannot be restored without political security,” he added.

Police later released a video that showed demonstrators hurling rocks at security forces and setting fires. At least one man fired a gun.

Judicial authorities told independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm on Saturday that they were investigating jailed Muslim Brotherhood leaders in connection with the overnight violence, alleging that the group had hired snipers to shoot its own followers.

Egyptian security forces have detained hundreds of Morsi supporters, including a number of top Muslim Brotherhood officials and presidential aides, since the coup.

Prosecutors said Friday that they had launched an investigation into allegations that Morsi had conspired with the militant Palestinian organization Hamas in a 2011 prison break that freed him and about 30 other Muslim Brotherhood members amid the chaos of the uprising that ousted Mubarak.

The Brotherhood and Hamas separately denied the charges, dismissing them as politically motivated.

The allegations, which also included murder and kidnapping, marked the state’s first official steps toward prosecuting Morsi.

The military has held Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, incommunicado in an undisclosed location since the his ouster. Military officials indicated to the Associated Press on Friday that they were leading the investigation against him and had interrogated him repeatedly in the past three weeks.

Egypt’s interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a liberal political leader, who has been relatively silent on the conditions of Morsi’s detention, spoke out on Twitter on Saturday to condemn the recent violence, hinting at divisions within the country’s still nascent cabinet.

“I strongly condemn the excessive use of force and the killing of victims. I am working tirelessly and in all possible directions to end the confrontation in a peaceful manner,” ElBaradei wrote.

Shock and outrage

Meanwhile, grief and shock mingled with outrage in the chaotic rooms of the makeshift hospital at the Brotherhood-led protest camp.

Pools of blood congealed on the floors, as men wept over the bodies of slain relatives, and exhausted volunteer doctors rested amid blood-spattered sheets and battered equipment. Doctors at the field hospital said many of the dead suffered gunshot wounds to the head or torso.

“Tell everyone in the village he is a martyr,” one man said into a cellphone, sobbing, while waiting to take the body of his brother from a room that had been converted into a morgue.

Doctors and witnesses said the wounded began streaming in about 11 p.m. Friday, as groups of protesters on a nearby highway and outside Cairo’s al-Azhar University came under attack.

At first, most of the victims were suffering from the suffocating effects of tear gas, then later, birdshot wounds, doctors said. By 4 a.m., a flood of people with gunshot wounds had arrived, as security forces and plainclothes “thugs” clashed with pro-Morsi demonstrators on roads leading to the protest camp, witnesses and doctors said.

Many victims did not go to official hospitals because they feared arrest, doctors said.

Nine people also died in clashes in the coastal city of Alexandria, the Health Ministry said. The Muslim Brotherhood said hundreds of protesters took cover from the clashes in a mosque and were later detained by security forces.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry accused the Muslim Brotherhood of using the mosque to fire “gunshots at Egyptian soldiers and citizens.”

Mohamed Elatfy, an emergency-room doctor who practices in Britain but was visiting family in Egypt, said he hurried to help after he saw an appeal for doctors at the field hospital in Cairo while watching al-Jazeera late at night.

At the time of Morsi’s ouster, he said, he was “totally against the regime.”

“It was a failing regime,” Elatfy said. But Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the chief of the armed forces, “is calling for a civil war,” he said. “And to be honest, I can’t understand why some Egyptians are calling for a bloodbath.” Elatfy said he was devastated by the turn that his home country had taken. “I was watching the marches yesterday, and I was in shock.”

Lara El Gibaly, Sharaf al-Hourani and Michael Birnbaum in Cairo and William Booth in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Abigail Hauslohner has been The Post’s Cairo bureau chief since 2012. She served previously as a Middle East correspondent for Time magazine and has been covering the Middle East since 2007.
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