Egyptian death toll climbs; Islamists accused of torching buildings
CAIRO — Fighting raged across Egypt for a second day as the official death toll rose from a crackdown on backers of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsy.
Islamists attacked more churches, police stations and government buildings here and in other cities, after police and soldiers razed their two sprawling encampments in the capital.
U.S. and other foreign leaders condemned the bloodshed. But Egyptian officials released video of protesters shooting at security forces and said 43 policemen were killed on Wednesday.
On Cairo's streets, Egyptians sounded bitterly divided by the violence that has killed nearly 700 people and injured more than 4,000.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which lost power along with Morsy, threatened more protests on Friday.
Egypt's military deposed Morsy and disbanded the Brotherhood-dominated parliament on July 3 resulting from enormous protests demanding an end to his year-old presidency.
Mourners stood over bodies wrapped in white shrouds in a mosque near Raba'a Adawiya Square in eastern Cairo, where the larger of the pro-Morsy encampments had stood. Journalists counted more than 200 bodies, some packed in ice to preserve them in the summer heat.
In the square, still reeking of tear gas, soldiers removed piles of smoldering rubbish.
“Many people died here — my friends, some were burned,” said Mohamed Musa, 50, a bank worker who supported the Islamist sit-in. “The military wants a military government.”
But Zeinab Abdelrahman, a neighborhood resident, interrupted to denounce the Brotherhood as “a terrorist group.”
“I am not a Brotherhood member,” Musa insisted. “I am Egyptian. What about all those elections?”
“I live here, and they burned the cars and the school here!” cried Abdelrahman, furious over the chaos caused by the Islamists. “They are terrorists!”
Like her, many residents of Raba'a Adawiya blamed the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies for what happened during their six-week sit-in and the resulting carnage.
One man said that, with Islamists encamped for several blocks, “there wasn't a life here. They were taking showers in the streets, in the open air.”
“It is like a war here,” said another, giving only his first name, Salah. “Look at this garbage … cars, burned and destroyed. We had to close our building and show our ID cards every time we came or left our homes.
“I don't want to see people killed, but they wouldn't leave. What can we do?”
Ahmed Mohamed said the sit-in's blaring loudspeakers kept him and neighbors awake at night and “they had their tents everywhere.”
Kareem Essam, 22, a telecom worker, said he and a friend were beaten by Brotherhood followers two weeks ago.
“They saw us carrying a Sisi poster,” he said, referring to army chief Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, who directed Morsy's ouster and installed the country's interim civilian government. “They said, ‘We are going to kill you, and we will burn Egypt if Morsy doesn't come back.' Then they gave us the beating of our lives.”
Essam said he thinks Brotherhood supporters are “preparing themselves for a new battle. They are burning churches to make a civil war between Muslims and Christians.”
Brotherhood spokesman Gehad Haddad said the organization has suffered a blow and lost its central coordination. Its followers' anger is “beyond control,” he told the Reuters news agency. “After the blows and arrests and killings … emotions are too high to be guided by anyone.”
Earlier in the day, Morsy supporters torched government buildings in Giza and elsewhere. Minya province's Mallawi Museum was looted of more than 1,000 artifacts.
Ishak Ibrahim, a religious-freedom researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said 25 churches were burned in Minya, Sohag, Assyut, Fayoum, Bani Suef, Suez and Giza provinces. He blamed the Brotherhood and its allies — the ultra-Islamist Salafi Nour Party and the Gama'a al Islamiyya, a onetime terrorist group.
In Minya, he said, “people called for help from the police and the army until 2 a.m., and no one answered. The Islamists prevented anyone from coming and helping put out the fire.”
He said Coptic Christian businesses and property have been destroyed, too.
“Most of these attacks took place in cities,” he said. “There is fear tomorrow that there will be more attacks in the countryside.”
Near Raba'a Adawiya's burned-out mosque, Amr El Saadani, 45, an engineer, blamed Islamists for the violence.
“This will not be stabilized very soon,” he said. “The next step that we could see is bombs and assassinations against political and media figures who supported this breakup.
“I think this will take six months before Egypt is stable again.”
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.