Egyptian troops opened fire on worshippers after dawn prayers

Egyptian troops opened fire on worshippers after dawn prayers


Originally published in the Evening Standard, 9 July 2013

The sun was rising over revolutionary Cairo, and the worshippers were finishing dawn prayers. Then the massacre began.

Doctors said that some of the dead may have been shot from behind as they knelt on the road facing east towards Mecca. Others were killed as they fled in terror from the slaughter — some felled by the snipers positioned in a nearby military facility.

By this morning 51 people, including one soldier, had been confirmed dead. It was one of the worst atrocities committed by Egypt’s army in recent memory and perhaps the single most dangerous incident since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak two and a half years ago. The military has blamed armed supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi for triggering the carnage, saying its soldiers were fired on first. The Muslim Brotherhood refutes the allegations, alleging that security services shot without provocation.

Videos online apparently show pro-Morsi demonstrators wielding handguns. Others have featured troops firing on protesters from buildings.

Following the popular coup which toppled Mr Morsi last week, there was widespread jubilation across the country. Egypt’s generals, siding with the nation, had ousted a leader who critics said was running the country into the ground. The anti-Morsi coalition was united in triumph. A brighter future for Egypt seemed possible. This morning such hopes are crumbling under the weight of 51 bullet-riddled bodies. The Brotherhood has called for a general uprising against the military and ordered its members onto the streets again today for mass protests. It continues to reject outright the coup which toppled its man from power.

Interim president Adly Mansour has issued a timetable for the coming transitional period.

A committee will be formed within a fortnight to amend the Islamist-drafted constitution; parliamentary elections will follow within six months and a presidential poll soon afterwards.

But as the scale of yesterday’s killings became clearer, one of the main Islamist parties which had supported the coup announced it was withdrawing its support from the transition process.

The ultra-conservative Al Nour Party, a longtime rival of the Brotherhood, had been courted by liberals and secularists to provide political cover for the insurrection.

Their departure from the anti-Morsi coalition leaves the coup, which began a week ago, looking more precarious than ever.