Egyptian army defends role in Cairo protest deaths

An Egyptian soldier reads Islam's holy book, the Koran, in his armored personnel carrier near the presidential palace in Cairo.
(Hussein Malla / Associated Press)

CAIRO – With supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi calling for another mass rally Friday, the Egyptian military gave a fuller accounting of its role in the deaths of at least 51 protesters this week, saying it resorted to deadly force only after encountering stones, gunfire, Molotov cocktails and even toilets hurled from rooftops.

The military’s version of events, accompanied by an edited video, came during a briefing Thursday to journalists and suggested the army was in a propaganda battle with the Muslim Brotherhood over which side was more complicit in the violence Monday in front of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo.

The clashes between the armed forces and supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have further inflamed the country and led to calls from Islamists for a national uprising.


Witnesses say they were attacked during predawn prayers while in the third day of a peaceful sit-in to demand Morsi’s release from military detention.
Army spokesman Ahmed Ali, however, said security forces were targeted with live ammunition.

Ali said the army responded by firing tear gas, blanks, rubber bullets and finally “we used live ammunition in non-deadly parts of the body.” Doctors who treated the wounded at a makeshift field hospital, however, said most of the victims were shot in the chest and head.

Ali said the army’s investigation determined that the assailants were “outlaws. They are criminals. This was not peaceful protest.... It was premeditated violence.”

He said that immediately after the bloodshed, pro-Morsi forces turned to “propaganda warfare” by posting pictures and videos online suggesting an “array of lies,” including that soldiers had killed children.

Ali said the pictures of two dead children used by pro-Morsi forces were Syrian children killed in March in that country’s civil war.

Other video presented by the army showed Islamists threatening holy war and warning that Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, commander of the armed forces, “created a new Al Qaeda, a new Taliban” when the army overthrew Morsi.

But the army video did not show exactly what unfolded between 4 a.m. and about 5:30 a.m., when many of the deaths occurred. The military said it did not expect an attack and had no cameras ready when the violence broke out.

Muslim Brotherhood officials have expressed outrage that the army is trying to blame them for the attack.

Prosecutors on Wednesday called for the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and other top figures, with state media reporting that Badie is accused of inciting violence ahead of deadly clashes.

“We will continue our peaceful resistance to the bloody military coup against constitutional legitimacy,” the Brotherhood said in a statement Thursday. “We trust that the peaceful and popular will of the people shall triumph over force and oppression.”

The group is calling for thousands of its supporters to turn out after Friday prayers for a rally calling for Morsi’s reinstatement.

The military-led interim government is expected to finish forming a new Cabinet to replace Morsi’s as early as Sunday.

Interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi and other officials are inviting representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party to join the coalition.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders scoffed at the offer, calling the interim government illegitimate and noting that the army had arrested many of its leaders.


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