x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Egypt's army storms mosque as goverment prepares to ban Brotherhood

The nationwide chaos shows no sign of abating as Al Fath mosque, the site of emotional prayers and furious demonstrations, becomes the site of an hours-long shoot-out. Alice Fordham reports from Cairo

An army officer points his weapon at the crowd as he escorts a man out of Al Fath mosque where Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi were taking shelter on Saturday. Mohammed El Shahed / AFP
An army officer points his weapon at the crowd as he escorts a man out of Al Fath mosque where Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi were taking shelter on Saturday. Mohammed El Shahed / AFP

CAIRO // Egypt's army battled supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi holed up in a mosque in the capital yesterday as a mob calling to attack the Islamists raged outside.

As the country struggled to cope with the scale of the bloodshed of the past week, a representative of the prime minister said the new, military-backed authorities were considering "dissolving" the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which just two months ago was the strongest political and social force in the country.

Mostafa Hegazy, a political adviser, said 173 people had died in violence since Friday, as tens of thousands of people spilled on to Egypt's streets in rage at Wednesday's crushing of Islamist protest camps against the military-installed government, in which hundreds of people died. More than 750 people haved died since the camps were cleared.

Many government buildings and churches were torched in the furious wave of demonstrations, including 27 police stations, the finance ministry, two prisons and 12 churches, Mr Hegazy said. Among the 500 people arrested, to whom he referred as terrorists, were Pakistanis, Palestinians and Syrians.

The nationwide chaos showed no sign of abating as Al Fath mosque in the Ramses downtown area, the site of emotional prayers and furious demonstrations which became a bloodbath Friday, was the site of an hours-long shoot-out yesterday.

Along with dozens of bodies of demonstrators killed by security forces on Friday, dozens of Morsi supporters had taken shelter in the mosque overnight, and were gradually being coaxed out early yesterday by promises of safety from the police and army.

Civilians armed with sticks clustered around the mosque, harassing and beating journalists, and trying to attack the people being escorted out of the mosque by security forces, according to witnesses and live television broadcasts.

Gunmen appeared to be shooting from the minaret by mid-afternoon, prompting a volley of fire from the security forces that left the graceful building covered in bullet holes by the evening.

One middle-aged woman, a supporter of Mr Morsi, wailed outside the mosque. "All the people in there, they are all my children," she said, while a gang of men with sticks eyed her suspiciously. By late evening, the mosque had apparently been emptied, though it was not clear if there were further casualties.

With the country increasingly polarised, and with people horrified by the fighting that spread across Cairo on Friday, the prime minister Hazem Al Beblawy suggested disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood.

His adviser, Mr Hegazy, suggested that the highly influential and entrenched Islamist organisation, which has slipped in and out of legitimacy in Egypt over more than eight decades, was now tainted with terrorism, despite coming out on top in various parliamentary and presidential elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

"We are not facing political divisions, we are facing a war being waged by extremists developing daily into terrorism," said Mr Hegazy.

However, he added that Brotherhood members who did not take part in last week's violence could take part in the country's transition.

"Anyone from the Muslim Brotherhood or the non-Muslim Brotherhood who would like to come back to join the peaceful Egyptian march towards the future will be welcomed".

The Brotherhood said that at least 213 demonstrators had been shot with live ammunition at demonstrations on Friday, alleging that helicopters and aeroplanes had shot at demonstrators. "The precious blood of peaceful protesters that flowed and is still being spilled is watering the tree of liberty in Egypt", is recalling the uprisings that felled Mubarak, they said in a statement, which called for a week of demonstrations to begin late yesterday - after a citywide 7pm curfew went into force.

Internationally, condemnation of the violence continued to flood in.

"We are deeply distressed by the ongoing and brutal violence in Egypt," the German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said. "Otherwise there is great danger that more blood will spill ... which indicates the danger of civil war," he said.

Demonstrations in Turkey, Yemen, the United States and elsewhere have called for an end to the violence and have criticised the military, led by Gen Abdel Fattah El Sissi, for their hard line on demonstrators who are still overwhelmingly unarmed.

The president, Adly Mansour, expressed Egyptian "bitterness" at coverage of the events in international media, saying that the deaths of soldiers and burning of churches were being ignored. The office responsible for accrediting foreign journalists issued a letter to reporters working in Cairo instructing them not to ignore links between the Brotherhood and Al Qaeda.

 

afordham@thenational.ae