Clashes erupted in Cairo between security forces and supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi, killing at least 38 protesters. The outburst of violence put the possibility of political reconciliation in the deeply divided nation ever further out of reach yesterday.
In chaotic scenes that hinted at the scale of the carnage, pools of blood stained the floors of a makeshift hospital near the front lines as doctors struggled to cope with the flood of casualties. The death toll was one of the biggest since the military, spurred on by mass protests, forced Morsi’s government from power more than three weeks ago.
The violence, which raged in the streets near the month-old sit-in held by Morsi’s supporters in east Cairo, is likely to harden the resolve of the ousted leader’s Muslim Brotherhood, which described the latest bloodshed as a ‘massacre’. The military-backed interim leadership appears to feel emboldened to move against the Brotherhood following mass rallies on Friday in support of a crackdown against the ousted president and his Islamist allies.
The clashes began after hundreds of Morsi supporters moved out of their encampment outside of the Rabaah al-Adawiyah Mosque late on Friday. One group began to set up tents on an adjoining boulevard, where they planned to stay for at least three days, said Mahmoud Zaqzouq, a Brotherhood spokesman.
At the same time, he said another group of protesters marched toward a nearby overpass, where they were met by volleys of tear gas from the police. The demonstrators responded by hurling rocks and stones at the security forces.
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the police force, said in a statement that residents in the Cairo neighborhood where the Brotherhood sit-in is located began clashing with marchers, whose protest was cutting off a major artery. The ministry says police intervened to break up the two sides by firing tear gas.
While there are conflicting accounts about who instigated the violence, there is no doubt that the confrontation quickly turned bloody. Health Ministry spokesman Khaled el-Khateeb said that 38 people were killed, and another 239 people wounded in the violence. At the makeshift morgue at the sit-in, supporters chanted: "The people want to execute the butcher," referring to army chief and Defense Minster General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
The bodies of more than 12 men shrouded in white cloth were laid out on the floor of the field hospital. Fourteen policemen and 37 army troops were wounded in the violence. The military-backed interim leadership has pushed a fast-track transition plan to return to a democratically elected government by early next year. Morsi’s supporters rejected the new political order, and said the military illegally ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. They have kept up their sit-in and held rallies elsewhere in the capital.