x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Egypt's Islamists, enraged by bloodshed, vow to prevail

Despite international condemnation of the government's use of force, Islamists vow to prevail even as their opponents cheer the security operations and praise their restraint. Alice Fordham reports from Cairo

Residents walk through debris and rubble inside the burnt down Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque following a government crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.
Residents walk through debris and rubble inside the burnt down Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque following a government crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

CAIRO // Enraged by the bloodshed of a crushed Islamist sit-in, supporters of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi burned down government buildings yesterday as furious words from all sides indicated Egypt's troubles were far from over.

Around the charred white minarets of the Rabaa Al Adawiyya mosque, heavy machinery and locals with brooms cleared the wreckage of Wednesday's fierce crackdown which flattened and burned two protest camps in the capital.

But despite international condemnation of the government's use of force, Islamists vowed to prevail even as their opponents cheered the security operations and praised their restraint.

Official figures set the death toll from Wednesday at 525 nationwide. But Mr Morsi's supporters, when asked, universally decried the figure as lies and set the number as high as 5,000, citing Islamist television channels and bloodshed they had seen themselves.

"We deplore violence against civilians," said US president Barack Obama, in a speech from his holiday home. "We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest."

The American president also suspended biannual military exercises with Egypt, and US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said that he had called Egyptian military chief Gen Abdel Fattah El Sisi to make clear that "the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our long-standing defence cooperation at risk".

But in Egypt, campaigners who call the military removal of Mr Morsi a restoration of democracy praised the work of the security forces in clearing the camps.

"We are in full support of what happened yesterday," said Mai Wahba, of the Tamarrod movement, whose campaigning swelled to become mass protests which culminated in the fall of the elected, Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government on July 3.

Calling the Brotherhood terrorists, she said that "there was no other solution except this one".

Ms Wahba added: "We called the Brotherhood to peaceful reconciliation more than once ... so this is the only solution left".

"We expected a larger amount of death, but the police acted in a very responsible way."

Speaking on Wednesday, the National Salvation Front, a movement once headed by the Nobel laureate liberal politician Mohammed ElBaradei, also praised the security forces. Yesterday, local media reported that the Front condemned Mr ElBaradei's resignation as interim vice president in protest at the violence.

In the Liltaqmeen Al Sahy hospital, where many of the injured and dead demonstrators were brought because of its proximity to the Rabaa Al Adawiyya mosque, emotions ran high.

"How can a leader do this to his country?" asked Nosra Ismail, 43, tear stains drying in salty white crescents on her niqab. "What did we do to deserve this?"

Mrs Ismail's brother was one of 44 bodies which had piled up in the small morgue in the last 24 hours. She was one of dozens of people waiting outside in the stifling heat and worsening smell for permission to collect the bodies of their loved ones.

Wails and sobbing filled the air. "They humiliate us," she said furiously, of the delay, which violated the Islamic practice of immediate burial.

Doctors said that every person killed in the clearing of the square, many by live ammunition, was considered part of a criminal investigation, and that the bodies would be sent for a post-mortem.

Many victims' families remained defiant. Shaker Kamil, a petroleum company worker, said that as soon as the body of his brother was returned to him, he would stage a funeral which would also be a demonstration. "We are going to protest until legitimacy is restored," he said. Along with other participants in the sit-in, he forcefully denied that the security forces had allowed demonstrators a safe exit at an early stage in the onslaught.

Inside, Dr Ali Mahrous, the deputy head of the hospital, said that many people had been admitted with wounds from live ammunition, as well as birdshot and trampling injuries. Three soldiers were among the dead.

Medical staff said that many operations had been impossible because of a shortage of blood in the overwhelmed institution: several people said they believe their relatives had bled to death from treatable injuries due to delays.

But even among the severely injured, a wrathful determination to bring down the military-installed interim government remained. The Muslim Brotherhood last night called for a demonstration to protest the events.

"As soon as I get better I will go to the square again and face the unjust interior ministry," declared Hassan Nasraddin Selim, as forcefully as he could with a broken arm, a shattered pelvis and a feeding tube in his nose. "Any square in Egypt. We are going to be in it and no one will be able to hold us back from facing down the tyranny."

Outside, in a city now under a state of emergency, with an nine-hour nightly curfew, empty streets were filled with scorch marks and dotted with burnt-out lorries.

Earlier, a crowd of Morsi supporters stormed a local government building complex in Giza and set it ablaze. The attack prompted the interior ministry to authorise police to use deadly force to protect themselves and key state institutions.

Security forces also cleared the embryo of a new sit-in in the Mohandisseen area of Cairo.

In the streets around the Rabaa Al Adawiyya mosque, smoke still hung in the air and the smell of burned flesh lingered around the gutted field hospital.

Soldiers surrounded the mosque itself, denying most people access. A woman who gave her name as Umm Hanan, who lives nearby, was having her photograph taken next to the soldiers by the mosque.

"It's a catastrophe, actually," she said. "The place where you were raised, where you live, you are forbidden from entering. Imagine, the house of God being burned."

afordham@thenational.ae

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