Gunfire, dead bodies and vows of revenge marked the “Friday of Rage” declared by supporters of the deposed President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo yesterday as Egypt slipped further towards a future of uncertainty and fear.
At least 30 people were reported to have been killed and more than a 200 injured in clashes throughout the day. In Cairo, four died when security forces shot into a chanting crowd which had been pressing towards the headquarters of the Presidential Guards. Another death followed later in the evening when supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to get to Tahrir Square where anti-Islamists had gathered for days.
There were continuous outbreaks of violence across the country. The border crossing with the Gaza Strip in northern Sinai was closed after jihadists, who have bases in the region, attacked a police station and a military airbase killing a soldier and injuring three others. There were also confrontations between Morsi followers and the police in Suez and Ismailia and shots fired in Alexandria.
Gun battles erupted last night near Tahrir Square with supporters of the Brotherhood accused of opening fire on their opponents. As the Islamists reinforced their presence on the streets, they also presented an aggressive stance politically, one of the movement’s senior figures, Mohamed Badie, declared to a rapturous rally of thousands. “God make Morsi victorious and bring him back to the palace.We are his soldiers we defend him with our lives,” he said.
The lethal toll in the capital began after supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood started to surge towards the Presidential Guards’ headquarters after rumours began to circulate that Mr Morsi, who has been put under arrest, was being held in the officers’ club in the complex. The army who had, until then, taken a relatively relaxed attitude on the day towards the protests, asked the marchers to stay back. This had no effect, a group of men walked up to a barbed wire barrier and stuck a poster of Morsi on it; a soldier tore it up.
There were more demands for the protestors to step back and then firing began seemingly without any further warnings.The Independent’s reporter on the scene saw one body, wrapped in a shroud of white cloth, being carried away to a car. Two others were said to have been killed by repeated volleys from behind walls and barbed wire. Some witnesses claimed that demonstrators had also opened fire; however, there were no reports of casualties among the security forces. The army issued a statement denying they had used live rounds and insisting they had fired only blanks.
Claims that gunmen in civilian clothing had carried out attacks fuelled an already tense and volatile situation, prompting furious Muslim Brotherhood supporters to threaten retaliation. With others around him voicing agreement, Samir al-Ghazli, who had come to “protect” the rally wearing a motor-cycle helmet and carrying a wooden stave, declared: “These are Mubarak’s men or those in Tahrir who conspired to take away our democratic rights. We can get hold of guns too.”
Among those injured was Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, who was hit in the head by shotgun pellets. Amar Abdurahman had similar injuries to his arms and neck. Throwing up his hands, he was convinced, had saved his eyes: “They were firing straight at us, not over our heads or our feet. Allah saved me from being blinded, but others haven’t been so fortunate: there have been many killed. Why are they doing this to us? Do they want to silence us all?”
The blood on Tareq Mohamed Abdel Samiya’s T-shirt with the face of Mr Morsi came, he said, from a protester who was shot in the head. “The bullet went in below his right eye and then the back of his head exploded. I saw three men in civilian clothes shooting at the same time. I don’t know who hit him.” Two others present also claimed that men in plain clothes were responsible.
Many of those taking part in yesterday’s demonstrations were anxious to stress that the soldiers were really with them, but had been forced to act against the Muslim Brotherhood by a coterie of senior officers. One of them, Mohammed El Sayed Forag, pointed at a circle of stones on a darkened patch of tarmac on the road, saying: “ Look, we are carrying out this protection, despite that. That is the blood of a student shot dead from this building.”
Most of the venom was directed at the head of the Army, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the move to remove Mr Morsi from power. Ashraf Ali-Badawi, who had been making throat-cutting gestures at a military helicopter overhead, said: “This is not for the soldiers. But I am personally prepared to kill al-Sisi.”
Yesterday’s killings may end the expressions of solidarity with the rank and file of the forces in the Muslim Brotherhood. By last night young marchers were talking about confronting the enemy at the Presidential Guards headquarters today.
Q&A: Egypt’s money trouble
Q. What’s wrong with Egypt’s economy?
It’s a mess. Unemployment is rising, passing 13 per cent earlier this year, and youth unemployment is much higher. Growth has slumped from the 5 per cent annual rate seen before the 2011 revolution.
Egypt’s GDP is expected to expand by just 2 per cent this year, nowhere near enough to create enough employment for the estimated 700,000 new job seekers who join the workforce each year. The sizeable tourist sector is suffering. And a petrol shortage, which resulted in long queues for fuel as seen last week, fed frustration among anti-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo.
Q. Was Morsi a disaster for the country’s finances?
Not entirely. The former President, Mohamed Morsi, raised public sector wages, which helped push the annual budget deficit to 14 per cent of GDP. Foreign investment slumped after he took office in June 2012, and this year the currency has shed some 16 per cent against the US dollar.
The central bank’s currency reserves are under pressure and it has been forced to accept support from allies in Qatar, Turkey and Libya. Egypt now has barely enough foreign currency to cover three months of imports. However, Mr Morsi did expand welfare programmes for the poorest, boosted wheat production to wean the country off food imports, and explored new ways for the government to raise debt.
Q. What happens now?
The Egyptian stock market shot up 7 per cent after Mr Morsi was deposed on Wednesday evening, implying that the financial markets think things will get better now he has gone.
The US President, Barack Obama, has refrained from calling the move by the Egyptian army a coup, which means that American aid can keep flowing to the country.
But Egypt’s prospects remain cloudy. The next administration will need to conclude long-running negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to release a $4.8bn aid package.
Ben ChuReuse content