Cops expected to besiege Morsi sit-ins
12 August 2013, 14:03
Cairo - Supporters of Egypt's ousted president have dug in
at their two Cairo sit-ins after security officials said police would besiege
the entrenched protest camps within 24 hours - perhaps as early as Monday
The development sets the stage for a possible confrontation
between the military-backed government and the thousands gathered at the protest
sites in support of ex-president Mohammed Morsi.
The protesters have said they will not leave until Morsi,
ousted in a popularly supported coup on 3 July, is reinstated.
Weeks of efforts by the international community to end the
standoff and find a peaceful resolution have so far failed. Egypt's interim
prime minister warned just ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday that ended on
Sunday that the government's decision to clear the sit-ins was
Egypt's new leadership says the protests have frightened
residents of Cairo, sparked deadly violence and disrupted traffic. Leaders of
the sit-in say they have been peaceful and blame security forces and
"thugs" for violence. More than 250 people have killed in violence
since Morsi's ouster.
At the main Cairo sit-in, vendors said they have sold
hundreds of gas masks, goggles and gloves to protesters readying for police
tear gas. Three waist-high barriers of concrete and wood have been built
against armoured vehicles.
The security officials said they would set up cordons around
the protest sites to bar anyone from entering, and one of the officials said
that could begin as soon as sunrise.
But by dawn on Monday, there was no indication of any troops
moving and the government has not confirmed when forces would advance on the
The Interior Ministry has said it would take gradual
measures, issuing warnings in recent weeks and saying it would use water
cannons and tear gas to minimise casualties.
Interior Ministry officials, speaking to The Associated
Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss
details of the security plans, said they are prepared for clashes that might be
set off by the cordons. The officials said police are working with the Health
Ministry to ensure ambulances are on hand for the wounded and that armoured
police vans are nearby to take away those arrested.
A special force within the riot police trained for crowd
dispersal is expected to deal with protesters. In the past, however, Egypt's
riot police, many lacking the training to deal with unarmed civilians, have
resorted to using lethal force.
Mass rallies two weeks ago called by Egypt's military
leader, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, showed that a large segment of Egypt's
population backs the armed forces' actions against Morsi's supporters.
Just before the holiday, the government said international
efforts failed to reach a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Morsi's
supporters, who include members of his Muslim Brotherhood. A last-ditch effort
was launched over the weekend by the Sunni Muslim world's pre-eminent religious
institution, Al-Azhar, to push for a resolution.
There are fears that violence from police trying to clear
the two sites will spread to other areas of the capital and beyond, where
thousands of Morsi supporters also hold near-daily marches.
The main protest camp in Cairo is between middle-class
residential buildings and ground floor businesses. Its focal point is a mosque
and an adjacent stage where Brotherhood leaders charged with inciting violence
openly talk to journalists.
Among them is former lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagy, who vowed
over the weekend to continue protesting at the sit-ins.
"We will happily sacrifice our souls, not for ourselves
but to free the captured nation and to ensure freedom and dignity to our people
and to the coming generations," he said.
Security officials, speaking anonymously because they are
not authorised to release the information, suspect Brotherhood guards around
the mosque in Rabaah al-Adawiya Square are well-armed. They also say both camps
have armed protesters on rooftops ready to shoot.
The Interior Ministry has depicted the encampments as a
public danger, saying 11 bodies bearing signs of torture were found near both
Amnesty International has also reported that anti-Morsi
protesters have been captured, beaten, subjected to electric shocks or stabbed.
At least eight bodies have arrived at a morgue in Cairo bearing signs of
torture, the human rights group said.
Of the more than 250 people killed since Morsi's ouster, at
least 130 were his supporters who died in two clashes with security forces last
At the Cairo sit-ins, the overwhelming majority echo the
demands of the Muslim Brotherhood: Restore Morsi to power and reverse all the
actions taken by the military, including suspension of the disputed
constitution and disbanding of the legislature.
Many of those interviewed dismissed the mass protests
against Morsi in the final weekend of June that preceded the military coup.
They acknowledge that Egypt is sharply divided, but worry that if they do not
defend the sit-ins, they will be detained and tortured — just as many were
before the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
They say they waited for hours to vote for Morsi in the
elections that catapulted his Brotherhood to power after years of oppression
and that the military leaders have now stolen their children's future by
overturning the outcomes of the balloting.
Um Roqiya said she will remain camped out with her five
children, despite concerns for their safety.
"We are here to defend legitimacy. If I die defending
that, we are martyrs," she said while patting her 7-year-old son on the
Her husband, longtime Brotherhood member Abdel-Latif Omran,
said he can do nothing to protect his children from death because their fate
has already been decided by God.
Organisations like Unicef have condemned what it calls the
deliberate use of children in Egypt who are "put at risk as potential witnesses
to or victims of violence". The Brotherhood says it cannot control families
that choose to camp out.
Neither authorities nor the guards have made clear how women
and children will be able to safely leave if rocks start flying and tear gas is
fired. In past clashes, birdshot and live bullets were allegedly used by both
Saber Mohammed Mansour, who is from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula,
has spent 44 days as a guard at the main camp. Dressed in a traditional
"galabiya," a long loose garment, Mansour said he is willing to die
for the cause.
Mansour and his fellow civilian guards, who wear hardhats
and stand behind the sandbags, say their only weapons are the sticks they
For Morsi supporters, the sit-ins are one of the last ways
to express themselves against the new government. TV channels sympathetic to
Morsi were shut down after they appeared to incite violence. Morsi and top
leaders of the Brotherhood have been detained and are facing criminal