Egyptian soldiers and police clashed with Islamists protesting the military’s ouster of the president in bloodshed that claimed at least 51 lives yesterday, officials and witnesses said, and plunged the divided country deeper into crisis with calls by the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party for all-out rebellion against the army.
The carnage outside the Republican Guard building in Cairo — where toppled Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was first detained last week — marked the single biggest death toll since massive protests forced Morsi’s government from power and brought in an interim civilian administration.
Even before all the bodies were counted, there were conflicting accounts on how the violence began — with Morsi’s backers saying it was an unprovoked attack and the military saying they came under assault first.
However, the violence is almost certain to draw sharper battle lines between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and their opponents who claim Morsi squandered his election victory last year and betrayed the democratic spirit of Egypt’s 2011 revolution by seeking only to bolster his and the Brotherhood’s grip on the state.
However, soon after the attack, the al-Nour party, an ultraconservative party that had been talking to the new government about participating in the political process, announced it was withdrawing its support for the transition plan in response to the “massacre.”
The military, which effectively supported the anti-Morsi movement, now may face pressure to impose stricter security measures to try to keep unrest from spilling out of control. It will also have to produce compelling evidence to support its version of events or otherwise suffer what is already shaping to be a Brotherhood media blitz to portray the military as a brutal institution with little regard for human life or democratic values.
In a move that is likely to further inflame the situation, the Freedom and Justice party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, called on Egyptians to rise up against the army. Morsi has been a longtime leader of the Brotherhood.
Additional reporting by Reuters