CAIRO — On the third day of clashes between hundreds of protesters and Egyptian soldiers Sunday, the country’s largest and most important political force, the Muslim Brotherhood, rebuked the country’s military leaders, saying it incited the violence.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party had viewed the ruling military council as an avenue to elections the party believes it can win. But the recent violence in the midst of the first post-Hosni Mubarak vote could mar the balloting, and members of the party worry that the military leaders will try to retain power once the parliament is seated.
At least 10 people have been killed and more than 400 wounded in a brutal crackdown on protesters that began Friday.
The Freedom and Justice Party, which won the first round of the multi-phase parliamentary election that ends in March, has not joined the protests in Tahrir Square, and it once was tacitly allied with the country’s military rulers. But Sunday, a leading member issued the party’s harshest statement yet, marking a fundamental shift in rhetoric and an end to the tense marriage of convenience between the military council and the Islamist party.
Party member Mohamed Beltagy in his statement called the military council a “collaborator with those disrupting Egypt’s security and safety.
“[The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] tries to create new crises as the time for power transfer to an elected civilian government gets closer.”
The hashtag #NoScaf, for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, was being used on the English-language Twitter feed for the Brotherhood.
The Freedom and Justice Party, which is poised to take the largest block of seats in Egypt’s next parliament, suspects that the military generals aren’t willing to give legislators any real power.
The council plans to retain control over the military and the judiciary. And in a briefing with Western journalists this month, Maj. Gen. Mukhtar Mulla told reporters that the parliament was not completely “representative.”
“Absurd inflammatory statements, contradicting all democratic principles, are made by some SCAF Major-Generals, and SCAF refuses to reject, condemn or denounce such provocative statements,” the Islamist party said in a weekend statement.
Military appointees also will help form the 100-member constituent assembly that the parliament is supposed to choose, including a newly appointed advisory council that suspended its meetings in protest after the crackdown.
Analysts say there probably will be a struggle for power as the ruling military chiefs, who took control after Mubarak’s ouster Feb. 11, try to protect their economic and political interests from a democratically elected parliament.
“This is a new confrontation in Egypt between a Brotherhood dominated parliament and the military, over the future of the country and over who controls what institutions,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Center. “It’s becoming increasingly clear to the Brotherhood and everyone else that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is the single most anti-democratic force in Egypt and is a threat to everyone.”
On Sunday, clashes between the military and protesters continued in battered Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the winter uprising. Police were deployed to reinforce the military as demonstrators fought in the streets leading to the square, throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at soldiers, who lobbed rocks and firebombs in return.
The violence was ignited Friday when the military used force in an effort to break up a small sit-in demonstration demanding an end to military rule. Soldiers escalated the violence Saturday, beating protesters and burning down tents and field hospitals.
On Sunday, the military continued to paint the protesters as vandals and thugs. The military council posted a video on its Facebook page of young men throwing rocks at the parliament building and in one case trying to set fire to the building. The council warned of a “conspiracy” against Egypt.
Activists, meanwhile, have flooded the Internet with videos of the brutal beatings of unarmed protesters.
One video depicted a young woman being dragged through the street by soldiers, her clothes opened to expose her bra, and a soldier stomping on her chest. The military detained at least nine women and more than 166 men, including children, over the weekend, according to human rights lawyer Ragia Omran.
The April 6 Democratic Front, a group that broke away from the April 6 Youth movement, the main orchestrators of the winter revolt, issued a statement calling for the prosecution of the Mubarak-era generals who are now part of the ruling military council. “They are killing the revolutionaries as Mubarak did, and they deserve to be in the cage like him,” the group said in a statement.