Morsy backers killed in Egypt clashes
CAIRO — The worst clash since the July 3 ouster of Egypt's president killed scores of Islamists on Saturday, raising concern of bloodier days ahead in the world's most populous Arab nation.
Police and Islamist backers of deposed President Mohamed Morsy collided hours after opposing sides held rallies here and in other cities.
Islamists claimed more than 127 of their followers were killed and thousands injured.
Health ministry officials reported 65 deaths.
Egypt is a leading influence on an Arab world that is in turmoil, from the gulf states to North Africa. Its stability is crucial to the United States because of its key role in battling Islamic terrorism, maintaining peace with Israel and providing secure shipping through the Suez Canal.
Many Egyptians have expected a bloody showdown with the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies, who lost parliamentary control when Morsy fell. Clashes across the deeply divided nation in the past three weeks have killed more than 200 and injured thousands.
The Brotherhood and other Islamists, encamped at two sites in the capital, have pushed for a confrontation by blocking busy thoroughfares in recent days.
Residents in those areas have asked police to remove the protesters. An interior ministry official said on Friday that would be done “soon” and “legally.”
The military called for national demonstrations on Friday as a public mandate against “violence and terrorism.” The Brotherhood staged competing marches, with only minor incidents reported in the capital.
But after midnight, Islamists marched on the October 6th Bridge, a major traffic artery.
“We were going to march to the bridge and return,” said Hussam Badawi, 25. “We saw the police … and chanted, ‘Peaceful, peaceful.' ”
Police fired tear gas and pellets, he said, then used live ammunition after three hours of fighting: “We had no weapons but bricks. I saw two brothers falling from bullets with my own eyes.”
“They could have shot at the feet” of marchers, said Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Araf, but “they were shooting to kill — in the head, neck and chest.”
He said hospitals refused to treat the wounded, and ambulances were blocked.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim dismissed those accusations and said the Brotherhood exaggerated the death toll.
He said the Brotherhood tried to block “this vital bridge” before engaging in a firefight with nearby residents that killed 21 people. Police tried to stop that battle with tear gas, he said; 14 officers were hurt, two of them shot in the head.
In an emotional press conference at one encampment, Brotherhood officials displayed shotgun shells and tear gas canisters allegedly fired by police; a gruesome video showed footage of the clash, the dead and injured — prompting some followers to weep or to chant, “Only God can help us.”
Others remained defiant. Veiled women chanted, “Oh martyrs, your blood frees the country,” and a group of men waved sticks and danced to a song with lyrics describing Egypt as Islamic.
Many of them vowed to maintain their sit-in until Morsy is reinstated – or, as Nadia Miselhi, 45, said, become “martyrs … defending freedom against the military coup.”
A tent displayed a poster of dead Morsy supporters and a warning: “Paid for by U.S. tax dollars.”
“America does this, and then they send their spies,” one man said as he passed a foreign journalist.
As night neared, the area between the encampment and the contested bridge became an eerie no man's land of garbage, makeshift barricades, bloodstained pavement and Morsy posters.
Soldiers stood in a nearby viewing stand — where Islamists assassinated then-President Anwar Sadat in 1981 — as men checked identity papers of those walking toward the Brotherhood sit-in.
One bearded man angrily shouted at a foreign female journalist: “Cover up! You are going to Islam!”
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.