Confident in the army’s position, Ali asked those at a televised news conference to stand in silence to mourn the dead. Later he expressed regret for the loss of life, but did not accept blame for the killings.
Still, the military took seriously the accusations it used excessive force and moved swiftly to debunk the version offered by the Brotherhood: that the victims were killed while praying and the dead included women and children.
The two sides spent most of the day fighting a “war of videos,” with each producing footage intended to show the other started the violence.
The independent and state media toed the military’s line, blaming the Brotherhood for attacking troops and police as they moved to clear a sit-in by Morsi supporters. After the shootings, the networks only aired army footage of the clashes — videos that purportedly showed armed Morsi supporters targeting troops and police with live ammunition, birdshot and rocks.
The Brotherhood, meanwhile, using social networking sites and sympathetic TV networks, distributed video showing tens of thousands of Morsi supporters rallying in Cairo, some weeping hysterically, while speakers cried out about martyrdom and their fight against a brutal military dictatorship.
“We’re still investigating how this started. I don’t think the killings were necessarily intentional, but we’ve seen how the smallest spark can provoke an excessive lethal response on the part of the military,” said Heba Morayef, the Egypt director of Human Rights Watch. “We know that there were some guns also on the Brotherhood side.”
The killings led to calls for an independent investigation.
Al-Azhar’s Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, one of Egypt’s most revered religious figures, increased the pressure on the military, saying he was going into seclusion in protest and would not emerge from his home until the bloodshed ends. He also warned of civil war.
The military was also fending off critics who say its ouster of Morsi was a coup and not, as many Egyptians believe, a move in support of a popular uprising.
The killings on Monday do not help.
“The death of so many at the hands of the army will only support the perception that it was a military coup and that the army only knows the language of violence,” said Gamal Eid, head of the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights. “The comments by the military spokesman betrayed the notion of the military in power and immune from accountability.”
Hamza Hendawi is the AP’s chief of bureau in Cairo. He has covered the Middle East for the AP since 1995.