Egyptian prime minister heckled by angry mourners at funeral
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CAIRO -- Hecklers and angry mourners chased Egypt’s new prime minister from the military funeral Tuesday of 16 border guards killed in an ambush by militants in the Sinai peninsula.
Bodyguards rushed Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to safety as mourners yelled, ‘You killed them, you dog,’ Egypt’s state-run Ahram Online website reported.
The scene highlighted the anger many Egyptians feel over the government’s inability to stem an escalating Islamic militancy along Egypt’s border with Israel. In the Sunday attack, masked gunmen killed the border guards and hijacked a pair of armored vehicles in a plan to attack an Israeli border post.
Much of the ill will is directed at Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the nation’s dominant political party. Many secular Egyptians and military personnel are suspicious of Morsi’s Islamist leanings and his overtures to Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip and has been known to have affiliations with the Brotherhood.
Morsi surprised Egyptians by not attending the funeral. Morsi’s office said he did not attend because he did not want to present ‘obstacles’ to the public’s mourning.
‘The scene was emotionally charged and for that reason the president decided not to go. [Defense Minister] Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi went on his behalf,’ Morsi spokesman Yasser Ali said.
Aya Hussein, a university student who attended the funeral, said, ‘We went to mourn the dead, but the people who ended up chasing Kandil away were also handing out anti-Morsi pamphlets calling for a revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood on Aug. 24,’ she said.
Supporters of Morsi’s rival in the presidential election, Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander, have called for Egyptians to rise up against the Brotherhood and Morsi on that date.
Such sentiment underscores the divide between Islamists and the military, which still holds enormous political power and has limited the president’s authority.
Talk show host Tawfik Okasha, who has been labeled as Egypt’s Glenn Beck, has endorsed the protests against the Islamists. Okasha and many of his supporters opposed the uprising last year that toppled Hosni Mubarak and his police state.
Like many young activists, Heba Mahfouz Farouk said she was saddened by the unrest around the funeral because the ‘deaths of the Egyptian soldiers are being politicized.’
Many Egyptians believe the Sinai attack could have been averted by tighter security and better military planning.
‘How can people who are supposed to be protecting the borders of a country not be properly trained or equipped with weapons to defend themselves? It’s not clear, something is wrong,’ Hussein said.
Like many Egyptians, she hoped that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel would be amended so that more Egyptian troops could be deployed to the region.
The ambush by about 35 militants along the Egyptian-Israeli border, which left 16 dead and injured at least seven others, was allegedly orchestrated by assailants from Gaza. They attacked the border crossing near Karam abu Salem, hijacked vehicles and drove toward the Israeli border. An Israeli airstrike killed eight militants. Many of the others are believed to be at large.
The army has vowed to catch ‘the perpetrators at any cost.’
After Morsi was elected, the key Rafah crossing was opened to allow food, medicine and resources into Gaza, in show of support to the Palestinian neighbors. The border has now been closed indefinitely.
‘This attack showed us just how much our borders are naked,’ Farouk said. ‘We are not protected.’
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-- Reem Abdellatif
at their funeral Tuesday in Cairo. The police were killed Sunday in an attack in the Sinai peninsula. Credit: Gianluigi Guercia / AFP/Getty Images