Fierce Clashes Erupt in Egypt Ahead of Presidential Vote (NY) TIMES) By KAREEM FAHIM and MAYY EL SHEIKH CAIRO, EGYPT 05/03/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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CAIRO — As least 11 people were killed after assailants attacked
protesters staging a sit-in near Egypt’s Ministry of Defense early on
Wednesday, setting off hours of clashes that threw the coming
presidential election into disarray as at least five candidates
announced the suspension of their campaigns to protest the deaths.
The victims, killed by gunfire, clubs or knives, included a third-
year medical student from Luxor and several young men from the Cairo
neighborhood Abbaseya, where the fighting occurred, doctors said. It
went for hours with no intervention from the authorities — suggesting
to some at least a degree of government complicity — as opposing
sides fought a pitched battle hurling stones and incendiary devices,
turning a residential neighborhood into a war zone marked by
At around 1 p.m., the security services suddenly arrived and the
The confusing, lethal episode has widened a rift between Egypt’s
military rulers and protesters who are pushing for a speedy
transition to a civilian government, with the protesters convinced
that their assailants were in the employ — or at least doing the
bidding — of the military. And the event cast a shadow over Egypt’s
coming presidential election, shortening an already brief campaign
season as it sharpened the differences between candidates.
One of the presidential front-runners, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a
former Muslim Brotherhood leader who has attracted leftists and
liberals with his candidacy, suspended his campaign indefinitely,
writing on Twitter, “We can’t discuss tomorrow while our youth are
drowning in their blood today.”
One of his main rivals, Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian minister,
announced that he was not suspending his campaign but that he was
stopping television advertising temporarily and had “canceled many
events.” In a statement, Mr. Moussa criticized the security services
for standing “idly by.”
The two men were scheduled to appear in a much-anticipated debate on
Thursday night, but that too was delayed because of the violence.
Yosri Fouda, a journalist who was to moderate the debate, announced
on his Twitter account that it would be postponed until next week.
Four other candidates also suspended their campaigns, including
Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate; Khalid Ali, a
human rights lawyer; and Hamdeen Sabbahi, an activist and founder of
a Nasserist party.
In a morning briefing for foreign reporters, Mr. Morsi warned the
ruling military council against using the violence as an excuse to
delay the elections, reflecting a widespread fear that the council is
looking for a pretense to retain power. But his comments also
reflected an intensifying power struggle between the Muslim
Brotherhood and the military as the presidential vote approaches.
“We hold the military council responsible first, because it’s the one
running the country,” Mr. Morsi said. “It’s the one with the
authority in its hand. We will not allow for the presidential
elections to be postponed at all.”
In statements released through official outlets, the military did not
exactly assuage the fears. A member of Parliament, Mustapha Bakri,
quoted the army chief of staff, Sami Anan, as telling Mr. Bakri that
the military was “considering” handing over power on May 24, if the
first round of voting yielded an outright winner.
In the statements, the ruling council also promised not to harm
protesters as it deployed its troops. The statement did not address
why the security services took hours — perhaps as many as 12 — before
responding to the violence.
The clashes followed days of a simmering standoff near the Ministry
of Defense, in what began as a sit-in by supporters of a disqualified
presidential candidate, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative
Islamist known as a Salafi. That sit-in grew into a broader protest
against the ruling military council which was joined by revolutionary
youth groups. At least one person was killed during the sporadic
clashes over the last few days.
No one could say for sure who the assailants were. Many protesters
were adamant that their attackers were affiliated with some branch of
the security services, though they had little hard evidence. “The
thugs were shooting tear gas at us,” said Sherif Mohammed, 26, a
member of the April 6 youth movement. “It’s not reasonable that
civilians would have tear gas guns.”
Several people said the clashes on Wednesday began at about 1
a.m. “We found thugs attacking us suddenly and throwing rocks,” said
Mohammed Rifiqi, 21, another April 6 member. He said security
officers who had been standing watch at a nearby mosque disappeared.
The assailants fired tear gas and live ammunition, according to Mr.
By 11 a.m., a residential intersection had become the front line of a
fierce battle, with the protesters throwing rocks gathered by
volunteers and hurling incendiary devices with slingshots.
Periodically, there was a stampede, as bursts of birdshot came from
the other side. Doctors gave death tolls ranging from 11 to 13. Dr.
Saleh Mohamed, who worked at a field hospital near the clashes, said
he treated five patients who died of gunshot wounds to the head.
Several doctors spoke of at least one man whose throat was cut. Of
the nearly 200 injuries reported by officials, several people were
blinded by birdshot, Dr. Mohammed said.
As the protesters started pushing their attackers back, they captured
a man. “He’s a thug, from over there,” one protester said. A few
people tried to take the man away, if only to stop him from being
beaten by the crowd, as people hit him, with sticks, empty fruit
boxes and plastic helmets and blood poured from his head.
Hours after the fighting stopped, hundreds of people marched to the
scene of the clashes, chanting slogans against military rule. They
included Ahmed Obyda, a 20-year-old student, who carried a sign with
a line by the Egyptian poet, Abdul Rahman el-Abnoudy.
“Kill me,” it said. “My killing will not bring back your state.”
Liam Stack contributed reporting. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times
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