Egypt Continues to Spiral into Violence, Political Chaos

Aug 16, 2013 12:44 PM

By Ayman Mohyeldin, Richard Engel and Ian Johnston, NBC News

CAIRO - Dozens of deaths were reported as clashes broke out during mass demonstrations by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt Friday.

Morsi's Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement had called for a “Day of Rage” in the wake of a military crackdown that killed more than 600 people.

There were conflicting reports about the number of dead, but official sources put the countrywide toll at about 60 with violent clashes in Cairo, Alexandria and other parts of the country.

The Anti-Coup Coalition, another leading group in the protests against last month's military takeover, said some of the 28 marches toward Cairo's central Ramses Square had come under attack.

Egypt's interior ministry said some Muslim Brotherhood supporters had tried to storm police stations in Cairo, but had been repelled by the security forces.

Clashes broke out on the central May 15 Bridge and the sound of gunfire could be heard coming from an area near the front of a large column of pro-Morsi supporters. A man in civilian clothes with a gun was seen occasionally firing into the air as he walked with protesters on the bridge.

Later, crowds of people appeared to be trapped on the bridge by occasional bursts of gunfire on one side and tear gas on the other. Some ran back and forth between the two ends.

Other people were seen jumping from the nearby October 6 Bridge to the ground below.

Heavy machine-gun fire could also be heard ringing out periodically in other parts of central Cairo. It was unclear who was firing.

Protester Mohammad Samir, an English teacher, said Morsi was “the legal president of Egypt.”

“Freedom is the only thing we want. [Military chief Gen. Abdel-Fatah] el-Sissi killed democracy in Egypt, so we are here to get our democracy again,” he said.

“We will not get back to our homes … again before getting our freedom.”

Samir, from Shariqa, named his three-month-old son Nidal, which means “resistance,” because of the protests.

Sara Ahmed, 28, a business manager, told Reuters on a march of thousands of headed downtown from northeast Cairo that it was "not about the Brotherhood, it's about human rights."

“Sooner or later I will die. Better to die for my rights than in my bed. Guns don't scare us anymore,” she said. Ahmed was one of the few women not wearing a headscarf, a sign of piety for Muslim women.

The Anti-Coup Coalition said 45 people had been killed near Ramses Square, according to a count at a makeshift field hospital set up in the area to treat protesters. A ministry of health official put the death toll in the area at 27.

Official sources also said nine people were killed in the Cairo suburb of Giza.

The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party said 10 people were killed and 27 injured by gunfire in Ismailia area near the Suez Canal; official sources said four had died. The FJP said that five people were killed during a rally in Northern Sinai.

An emergency service official, Abdel Wahab Dura, told Reuters that eight people were killed during clashes between protesters and security forces in the Mediterranean town of Damietta; another official source said four had died.

Five people were killed and 70 wounded in the city of Fayoum, south of Cairo, Gamal Shuaib, a hospital manager, told Reuters.

Violence was also reported in Egypt's second city Alexandria and in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, Reuters said.

Egypt's military had stepped up security around key sites after at least 638 people were killed and nearly 4,000 injured on Wednesday when security forces cleared sit-in protests by supporters of Morsi.

Armored personnel carriers and tanks could be seen at several places in central Cairo early Friday and the military announced it would deploy troops to guard "vital installations."

A statement posted on the Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language website before the protests began said that “we call on the great Egyptian people to gather in all revolutionary squares on the Friday of Rage.”

“The struggle to overthrow this illegitimate regime is an obligation, an Islamic, national, moral, and human obligation which we will not steer away from until justice and freedom prevail, and until repression is conquered,” it said.

It added that “our revolution is peaceful, and … violence is not our approach.”

President Barack Obama on Thursday strongly condemned Egypt’s interim government and canceled a planned joint military operation in protest over the violence.

Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said Friday that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry thought events in Egypt were “deplorable.”

“We are done with business as usual,” she said. “We are focused on what is good for Egyptian people and getting to a place where democracy rules.”

The U.S. has been criticized by both sides in the bloody conflict.

A statement issued by the Egyptian presidency, which was read on state TV, said it feared Obama’s remarks were “not based on facts and encourage violence and the flourishing of armed groups.”

It added that his comments could “complicate the country’s road map and transition to democracy.”

Meanwhile, Amr Darrag, a former government minister in Morsi’s administration, condemned the “shocking and irresponsible rhetoric from the State Department” in an article published Friday on the Brotherhood’s website and in The New York Times.

He said a U.S. call to its demonstrators to renounce violence had “given the junta cover to perpetrate heinous crimes in the name of ‘confronting’ violence.”

“The [Egyptian] military and so-called liberal elites have shown time and again that they believe they are entitled to a veto over Egyptians’ choices,” Darrag added. “But the general [el-Sissi] who betrayed his oath and held the only elected president in the history of Egypt in extralegal detention cannot be trusted to let an opposition movement survive, let alone thrive.”

“This is a battle between those who envision a democratic, pluralistic Egypt in which the individual has dignity and power changes hands at the ballot box and those who support a militarized state in which government is imposed on the people by force.”

NBC News' Ghazi Balkiz, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Most Popular