By Elham Asaad Buaras and Abdul Adil
More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed by the Egyptian military Government this month, most of them on August 14. This comes after Egypt’s first ever elected President, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown in a military coup on July 3.
The Muslim Brotherhood has challenged the official death toll of around 800 insisting that more than 2,500 unarmed civilians, women and children were “massacred” when the security forces stormed two protest camps in Nahda and Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, northwest of Cairo.
The security forces had concealed the August 14 real death toll by storming and setting alight makeshift field clinics around Rabaa al-Adawiya.
Eyewitnesses said the forces entered the tents and took corpses to an unknown location, while arresting and overwhelming medical staff.
Whatever the official death toll, the number is expected to rise with most of the injured fighting bullet wounds to the head, neck and upper body.
Lawyer Ahmad Mafrah said ambulances were also shot at while trying to go into the square to reach the injured.
A leading figure of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed el-Beltagy, blamed the violence on army Chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s call for rallies on August 16.
Hundreds of thousands of people came onto the streets after el-Sissi, who played a central role in overthrowing Morsi, called for Egyptians to rally to give him a mandate to tackle “violence and terrorism”.
“They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill,” said Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad.
His claims were corroborated by eye witnesses including journalists like Sky correspondent Sam Kiley who said: “The crowd continues to come and go from the street with most women and children now cowering behind improvised sniper curtains of the sort one would have seen in Sarajevo and have seen in Aleppo and I think the comparison is justly made.
“The scenes here are what you would expect from a country that is in a state of war not a country that has been enduring vociferous protests against a coup.”
Hoda Saki, a 28-year-old English teacher whose father was in the camp, said that she had been fired upon when she tried to re-enter the camp.
She said: “He called us to say they are shooting at the tents and using tear gas. There are women and children inside. They can’t count the injuries because there are so many of them.”
“I have followed almost all foreign news outlets, their bulletins and coverage of the massacre from the first moment Rabaa al-Adawiya and El-Nahda squares came under attack ¬ and not one reporter has said that the sit-ins were not peaceful,” wrote Editor in Chief of Alquds Alarabi Newspaper, Abdel Bari Atwan, on his blog.
CNN’s correspondent at the scene, when asked by the channel’s prominent anchor Jim Clancy if he had seen any weapons among the protestors, confirmed that there was not a single gun in sight nor did he see any protester firing at security. However, he revealed that he had seen snipers, believed to be from security forces, firing at protesters.
Atwan accused liberal opponents of supporting the army and “turned them [Muslim Brotherhood] into victims of democracy by annihilating their ballot boxes and ousting their elected choice.
“Personally I do not know how liberals, such as Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi, will face the Egyptian people, after supporting the very army that committed massacres against its own people.” ElBaradei resigned from the interim military Government after the massacre.
Security forces have also been accused of deliberately targeting journalists during the crackdown on protestors after a Sky News camera man and a reporter for a Gulf newspaper were shot dead and at least four other colleagues wounded by gunfire.
Michael Deane and Habiba Ahmad Abd Elaziz were killed by sniper fire near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. Two other cameramen were also shot and wounded as they stood on a stage near the centre of the site, which had become a focal point of Morsi supporters since his ousting on July3.
The France-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB) said it was “alarmed” that one of the first actions of el-Sisi was to close down pro-Morsi TV channels.
“Inaugurating a new era that is supposed to be democratic with such an act of censorship is disturbing, under the rule of law, a court order should be needed to close a news outlet. We call for the reopening of these three TV stations,” RWB told The Muslim News at the time of the closures
Global reaction to the bloodshed was mixed in unusually strong language. France demanded an “immediate end to the repression,” condemning the “the bloody violence”. Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said an “urgent international position.”
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, followed suit and summoned the Egyptian Ambassador. He said the violence is “not going to solve anything.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office told The Muslim News they are “deeply concerned” by violence and “urge for dialogue and a peaceful resolution.”
He added: “As the Foreign Secretary said in his statement on 27 July, now is the time for dialogue, not confrontation.”
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton – the only outsider to meet Morsi since the coup – “strongly condemned” the violence and called for Egypt’s security forces to “exercise utmost restraint.”
Ashton’s comments were made after it was revealed her special envoy to the Middle East, Bernardino Leon, said the army rejected a peace deal with the Muslim Brotherhood a few hours before the [August 14] killing.
He said he and US diplomat William Burns brokered an agreement between the military and the brothers on how to end their month-long sit-ins in two city squares.
“We had a political plan that was on the table, that had been accepted by the other side [the brotherhood] … They [the army] could have taken this option. So all that has happened today was unnecessary,” he said.
He noted that he made a final appeal on the peace plan to military chiefs “hours” before they ordered the assault using armored bulldozers and live ammunition against the protestors.
US President, Barack Obama, cancelled joint military exercises following the deaths.
But Washington has not suspended military aid to Egypt, a key Middle East ally which maintains warm relations with Israel.
The US Administration has yet to call Morsi’s overthrow a “coup,” which would legally require it to cut off aid.
Despite the open condemnation of the August 14 massacre an Israeli official said Israel and the West must support Egypt’s army to regain control of the country and prevent “jihadists” from taking over.
The unnamed official’s comments came a day after a New York Times report said that Israel would press the US and EU to support the military in unrest-swept Egypt.
“The name of the game right now is not democracy,” the Jerusalem Post quoted the official as saying. “The name of the game is that there needs to be a functioning state.”
Turkey’s Government harshly criticized the crackdown and blamed other unnamed countries for encouraging the interim government.
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, denounced the violence and regretted that Egyptian authorities chose to use force to respond to the demonstrations.
President of Tunisia’s governing Party Ennahda, Rachid Ghannouchi, called the crackdown an “abject crime” and backed the protestors bid to “recover their freedom and oppose the coup d’etat.”
The German Government said it was “extremely worried” about the “very dangerous” escalation of violence.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned the crackdown, warning the violence “strengthens the possibility of civil war.”
Qatar said it “strongly condemns” the violence its Foreign Affairs Ministry urged Egyptian authorities to refrain from security crackdowns on demonstrations.
However, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE came in support of the military regime. King Abdullah said, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its people and government stood and stands by today with its brothers in Egypt against terrorism.
“I call on the honest men of Egypt and the Arab and Muslim nations … to stand as one man and with one heart in the face of attempts to destabilise a country that is at the forefront of Arab and Muslim history.”
As we go to print, reports emerged of massacre of hundreds of civilians, many of them children, due to alleged gas poisoning in the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, on August 21. The alleged chemical attack has been blamed on the Government by the opposition and Western governments, including the UK. There has been no independent verification of the allegations. The Syrian Government denied that chemical weapons were used by the army, The UN inspectors who are already in Syria to visit other areas of previous alleged chemical attacks, may be asked to visit the news sites. According to the opposition, 100,000 people, have been killed since the uprising.