Egyptian security forces shot dead at least 70 supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi early on Saturday, his Muslim Brotherhood said, deepening the turmoil which has convulsed Egypt for weeks.
Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said the shooting started shortly before pre-dawn morning prayers on the fringes of a round-the-clock vigil being staged by backers of Morsi near Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawia mosque, who was toppled by the army more than three weeks ago.
“They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill,” Haddad said, adding that the death toll might be much higher.
Al Jazeera’s Egypt television station reported that 120 had been killed and some 4,500 injured. Reporters at the scene said firing could still be heard hours after the troubles started.
“I have been trying to make the youth withdraw for five hours. I can’t. They are saying have paid with their blood and they do not want to retreat,” said Saad el-Hosseini, a senior Brotherhood politician.
“It is a first attempt to clear Rabaa al-Adawia,” he added.
There was no immediate comment from state authorities on what had happened.
Supporters and opponents of Morsi staged mass rival rallies across the country on Friday, bringing hundreds of thousands into the streets and laying bare deep divisions within the Arab world’s most populous country.
Well over 200 people have died in violence since the overthrow of Morsi, including at least nine on Friday, most of them Brotherhood supporters.
Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who played a central role in the overthrow of Morsi following huge demonstrations against his year-long rule, called for Egyptians to rally on Friday to give him a mandate to tackle “violence and terrorism”.
Hundreds of thousands heeded his call, but Muslim Brotherhood supporters also staged mass, counter-rallies, demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, who was placed under investigation on Friday for a raft of crimes, including murder.
Asked what the strategy of the Brotherhood would be after the second mass killing of its supporters this month by security forces, Haddad said:
“When there are divisions, we go to the ballot box.”
Haddad said police started firing repeated rounds of teargas sometime after 3am local time at protesters who had spilled out of the main area of the Rabaa sit-in and were on a main thoroughfare close to 6th October Bridge.
“Through the smog of the gas, the bullets started flying,” he said. In addition to “special police forces in black uniforms” firing live rounds, he said that snipers shot from the roofs of a university, buildings in the area, and a bridge.
State news agency MENA quoted an unnamed security source as saying that only teargas was used to disperse protesters. He said no firearms were used.
Haddad said the pro-Morsi supporters had used rocks to try to defend themselves. On the podium outside the Rabaa mosque, a speaker urged people to retreat from the gunfire, but “men stayed to defend themselves because women and children are inside the sit-in”, he said.
It was the second time this month there had been a mass killing near Rabaa. On July 8, 53 people died when armed men shot into a crowd after morning prayers close to a Republican Guard compound in the area.
“This is much more brutal because the Republican Guard looked like a tactical military operation. This one looks like a much more brutal aggression,” Haddad said.
Egypt’s army-installed interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said on Friday that the month-old Cairo vigils by Morsi supporters would be “brought to an end, soon and in a legal manner”, state-run al Ahram news website reported.
Robert Fisk on Egypt: As impoverished crowds gather in support of Mohamed Morsi, the well-heeled march behind their images of the General
Hundreds of thousands of people turned out outside Cairo’s Rabaa mosque yesterday to protest against the coup d’état in Egypt, while hundreds of thousands poured into Tahrir Square to support their favourite general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who staged the coup-that-we-mustn’t-call-a-coup.
Grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre. Call it what you like. But the helicopters swooping happily over Tahrir, and the line of visor-wearing riot police and troops standing opposite the Muslim Brotherhood’s barricades, told their own story. Journalists should not be merchants of gloom, but things did not look too good in Cairo last night.
The saddest thing – the most tragic, if you like – was that the crowds in Nasr City, close to the airport road where the mosque stands, were as cheerful and welcoming as the masses in Tahrir who regard their opposite numbers as “terrorists” rather than supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the legally and democratically elected President of Egypt who was overthrown by the army three weeks ago. The tens of thousands of Egyptians crossing the Nile River bridges or sweating in the 40C heat on the highway to the airport were so happy they could have been heading for a football match.
But there the jollity ends. The Muslim Brotherhood men and women carried Morsi’s picture and had painted Stars of David on the military barracks near the mosque. The Brotherhood had piled thousands of sandbags around their tent encampment and piles of stones to hurl at anyone trying to move them. But the soldiers down the road – also, it has to be said, cheerful and quite friendly – were holding automatic weapons beside French and American-made armoured vehicles, and they also held wooden batons and were flanked by policemen in shoddy black uniforms.
One point that stood out – and it may be unfashionable to say so – is that the Brotherhood supporters were generally poor and looked poor in their grubby abayas and plastic sandals. Some of the Tahrir demonstrators, who were truly revolutionaries against Mubarak in 2011, trooped over the Nile bridges waving posters of General al-Sisi. And one has to say, painful as it is to do so, that the sight of well-heeled people holding aloft the photograph of a general in sunglasses – was profoundly depressing. What really happened to the 25 January 2011 revolution?
“We love the soldiers but we don’t need the general,” a scarved woman shouted near the Rabaa mosque, but Sisi is now a well-known face, the man who will return Egypt to its true revolutionary path, if you can forget for the time being that the first genuinely elected president in modern Egyptian history is probably incarcerated in one of those barracks we drive by so blithely on the way to the airport.
But Egypt does need a government. Driving back from Nasr City to central Cairo tonight, my car was blocked in a traffic jam because rival families were fighting a gun battle across the highway. About 1,000 Cairenes had joined in by throwing stones from an overpass. Two miles further on, a middle-aged woman was driven down by a motorcycle and lay on the road in great pain. Many of the drivers who saw her carried on their journeys, the noses of their families pressed to the window as this lady lay spread-eagled on the highway in her black dress. The near future does not look good.