x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Islamists killed as El Sisi asks them to 'help us to save Egypt'

Dozens of members of the Muslim Brotherhood are reported killed in prison as military chief calls on followers of the former regime to participate in rebuilding democracy.

A son of the Muslim Brotherhood’s late spiritual leader Ammar Badie prays during his father's funeral in Al Hamed mosque in Cairo's Katameya district.
A son of the Muslim Brotherhood’s late spiritual leader Ammar Badie prays during his father's funeral in Al Hamed mosque in Cairo's Katameya district.

CAIRO // Dozens of members of the Muslim Brotherhood were reported killed yesterday during what the Egyptian interior ministry said was an attempt by more than 600 members of the group to escape from prison.

The ministry did not mention casualties, but said the men were being held in pre-trial detention in Abu Zabal prison north of Cairo. In a statement on its Facebook page, the ministry said the men had taken a prison officer hostage, who was severely injured.

Reuters cited a security source saying that 38 people had been killed, while the official Mena news agency quoted a security official as confirming 36 dead during an attempt to escape with the aid of "unknown gunmen".

In a different version of events, the Anti-Coup Alliance, which opposes the military's removal of the previous Islamist-led government, said 38 detainees had been "assassinated" in a truck while being taken to prison.

Thousands of men are thought to have been arrested nationwide in a crackdown by the new military-backed government on its Islamist predecessors.

The report of further deaths came as thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets across Egypt, and the military chief said further political violence would not be tolerated.

Holding four fingers aloft in tribute to the venerated female mystic Rabaa Al Adawiyya, whose name means fourth and whose eponymous mosque was the focal point of a Brotherhood sit-in crushed last week, they chanted "Allahu akbar" as they marched.

The smaller protests were held after Islamists cancelled several rallies, citing security concerns.

In cities outside Cairo, including Fayoum, Minya and Helwan, and in some parts of the capital, including the southern Maadi area, the marchers held aloft pictures of Mohammed Morsi in continuing defiance of Egypt's military-backed rulers.

The government says at least 830 people have been killed since a crackdown began last week on the camps supporting the return of Mr Morsi, the elected Islamist president removed by the military on July 3 after huge protests in Egypt. The dead include 79 policemen.

While enthusiastic, the marches were smaller than previous, furious cavalcades of people who streamed into the streets of the capital after the razing of the camps. A press conference by the Anti-Coup movement, which regards Mr Morsi's removal as a military coup, was cancelled, as was at least one planned demonstration, due to security concerns.

In Cairo, which has been under emergency law and a patchily-enforced curfew since hundreds of of people were killed in the camp clearout last Wednesday, life in many areas returned to normal yesterday, with shops open and heavy traffic on the roads.

But in other places, particularly around the Nasr City district where the main Islamist sit-in lasted for more than a month, a heavy military presence remained on the streets. No major violence was reported, though demonstrators were seen heading towards a heavily fortified court from the Giza area on the edges of Cairo.

It was not clear whether the comparative normality was a hiatus - supporters of Mr Morsi have called for protests every day for a week - or the ebbing of a protest movement that has been weakened by hundreds of deaths and thousands of arrests.

The military and the interim government which it backs stressed in a number of statements to reporters that the Muslim Brotherhood was associated with terrorist movements, that non-Egyptian militants had been arrested in connection with the movement's violent activity, and that the Egyptian security forces had been "fighting terrorism" in their operations since last week.

General Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the defence minister, speaking publicly for the first time since his soldiers, along with police, cleared the Cairo sit-ins, said the military did not want to seize power in the country and warned against violent protests.

"We will not stand by silently watching the destruction of the country and the people or the torching the nation and terrorising the citizens," he said.

But there were also signs that officials may be looking for a way forward beyond crushing the group.

"We ... call for the followers of the former regime to participate in rebuilding the democratic track and integrate in the political process and the future map instead of confrontations and destroying the Egyptian state," Gen El Sisi said in a televised speech to Egyptian officers.

He called for patriotic support by Egyptians, saying the challenges facing the country now were too big for the state to handle without the people and the nation.

He also thanked the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Bahrain for their support.

The cabinet met to discuss a way forward, amid what seemed to be contradictory impulses for dealing with the Brotherhood, whose political arm won five presidential and parliamentary elections, but whose popularity plummeted after their year in power.

Reuters reported that Ziad Bahaa El Din, the deputy prime minister, had suggested ending the state of emergency, encouraging political inclusion of all parties and stressing the right to free assembly.

But his tactics seemed at odds with the suggestion of the prime minister Hazem Al Beblawi on Saturday that the deeply entrenched, more than eight decades old Brotherhood simply be disbanded. Also, authorities carried out raids yesterday, detaining at least 300 mid-level Brotherhood officials and field operatives in several cities, according to security officials and group statements.

Al Azhar, Egypt's leading religious authority, continued to call for calm and non-violence, as Gen El Sisi mentioned it in his speech as having an important role to play.

Grand Imam Ahmed El Tayyeb said late on Saturday that, "violence does not bring rights to anyone. Legitimacy is not won by bloodshed or spreading chaos".

"We are confident that there is still a chance, hope and a place for many of you of who were not proven to have incited violence to seek peace and start talks for a peaceful solution," he added, according to state media.

afordham@thenational.ae

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