THOUSANDS of supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood stood their ground in Cairo yesterday, saying they would not leave the streets despite “massacres” by security forces who shot dozens of them dead.
Egypt’s ambulance service said at least 72 people were killed in Saturday’s violence at a Cairo vigil by backers of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, triggering global anxiety that the Arab world’s most populous country risked plunging into the abyss.
Mr Morsi’s Brotherhood, which won repeated elections after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, accused the military of reversing the uprising that brought democracy to Egypt and demanded his reinstatement.
“They will not be content until they bring back everything from the era of the corrupt, murderous security and intelligence state,” senior Brotherhood official Essam el-Erian said.
“They’ve stepped up their efforts to do so by committing massacres never before seen in Egyptian history.”
The interior ministry has rejected eyewitness accounts that police opened fire on the crowds, and a public prosecutor has launched a probe into the violence, investigating 72 suspects for crimes including murder and blocking streets.
Although most of the streets in Cairo were quiet yesterday violent clashes rattled the Suez Canal city of Port Said, with a 17-year-old youth killed in fighting between the pro- and anti-Morsi camps and a further 29 people injured, security sources said.
The violence has deeply polarised Egypt, with its secular and liberal elite so far showing little sympathy for the Brotherhood or reservations about the return to power of a military which ruled for 60 years before the 2011 uprising.
However, in one of the first signs of doubt from within the interim cabinet installed after the military takeover, deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Ziad Bahaa El-Din, said the government must not copy the “oppressive” policies of its foes.
“Our position must remain fixed on the need to provide legal guarantees not only for the members of the Brotherhood, but for every Egyptian citizen. Excessive force is not permitted,” Mr El-Din wrote on Facebook.
In another sign of unease, the Tamarud youth protest movement, which mobilised millions of people against Mr Morsi and has fully backed the army, expressed alarm at an announcement by the interior minister that he was reviving the feared secret political police shut down after Mubarak was toppled. Saturday’s killings took place the day after mass rallies called by military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who said he wanted public backing for a crackdown on “terrorism”.
The Brotherhood saw the demonstrations as an attempt to justify an imminent onslaught against itself.
In an apparent endorsement of the police, Mr Sisi attended a graduation ceremony yesterday broadcast live on state television, receiving a standing ovation from the recruits, all decked out in starched white uniforms.
Interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim hailed him as “Egypt’s devoted son”.
The military says it does not want to retain power and aims to hand over to full civilian rule with a “road map” to parliamentary elections in about six months.
But the very public role of Mr Sisi as face of the new order has led to speculation that the next president could again be a military officer, like all of Egypt’s rulers between 1952 and Mr Morsi’s election last year.
Yesterday morning, army vehicles still surrounded entrances to the square in northeast Cairo where thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have camped for a month.