By Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: Activists and rights groups condemned Sunday night’s fatal clashes between army forces and protesters in central Cairo, which left 25 dead and around 330 injured.
The death toll and number of injuries continued rising as violence escalated into the early hours of Monday. A final count is yet to be announced.
Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Hossam Bahgat told Daily News Egypt that he personally counted 17 dead bodies inside the Coptic Hospital morgue directly after the clashes.
“Three of them were inside the morgue, while the rest were laid in the floor. Five of them had been deliberately run over by armored vehicles, and one body was decapitated,” Bahgat said, adding that some corpses were missing limbs while others were shot with live ammunition.
“Activist Mina Daniel was shot in the head. Families collected live ammunition and pellets fired by army forces,” he added.
Bahgat said an independent, impartial commission must be formed to investigate the clashes, adding that a committee formed by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will not be objective.
SCAF on Monday called on its government to carry out a swift investigation into the clashes.
Twelve protesters were arrested by military police and are being interrogated by military prosecution, according to lawyer Ahmed Hishmat.
State television showed Field Marshal Hussein Tantawy and other generals meeting a day after the late night violence that was the worst since the army took control following Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, Reuters reported.
The army also said they would take all necessary measures to maintain security and reiterated their commitment to plan for handing power to civilians.
But activists were furious at what they called the heavy-handed measures used to disperse a peaceful protest of unarmed civilians.
“We need to know the exact identity of army soldiers and officers who were riding the armored vehicles that ran over protesters, in addition to the identity of army officials who ordered this excessive use of violence,” Bahgat added.
According to activist Lobna Darwish, who participated in the march that started from Shoubra and ended with the bloody clashes at state TV building Maspero, no weapons were used by protesters.
“Unlike the propaganda of state TV, no weapons were held by peaceful protesters. They were only holding wooden crosses — if you can consider these weapons,” she said.
Darwish said the violence started when security forces fired live ammunition in the air as soon as the march arrived at Maspero.
“Some protesters were waiting in front of Maspero holding candles and waiting for the march [to arrive]. As soon as the march joined, [security forces] started firing in the air and then opened fire at protesters, and then four armored vehicles ran over protesters,” she added.
Darwish confirmed that protesters were hurling stones at the armored vehicles and set them ablaze when violence escalated.
“One of the soldiers was taken out of the vehicle and beaten, and only one protester took a weapon from inside the vehicle, but families prevented him from using it,” she added, confirming that she did not see any deaths on the army side.
Initial reports on state TV had said that three soldiers were killed, but the statement was retracted late on Monday. It is still unclear how many, if any, soldiers died.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) accused state TV of “sectarian incitement,” saying in a statement that anchors urged the Egyptian people to go to the streets to support the armed forces, saying they were being attacked by Coptic protesters.
“State TV masterminded an incitement campaign against Coptic protesters in the name of protecting the armed forces, claiming that Coptic protesters were armed and started the attack which was denied by eyewitnesses,” ANHRI said in a statement released Monday.
ANHRI also condemned the army’s crackdown on the headquarters of 25TV and Al-Hurra news channels, which were airing the clashes live before military police stormed their offices near Maspero.
“Army forces stopped the 25TV [broadcast], searched the entire staff and confiscated the videotapes including the recordings of the clashes, and surrounded the headquarters, preventing the staff from leaving,” the statement added.
Bahgat held state TV responsible for the escalation of events by “misreporting the clashes and presenting them as an attack against the armed forces, inciting sectarian tensions,” according to him.
Darwish confirmed that a number of citizens went to Maspero to defend the army against the “armed Copts” but then were calmed down by Muslim protesters who joined the Copts in their march.
“They were holding swords and incited by state TV’s sectarian reporting,” she added.
Minister of Information Osama Heikal urged Egyptian media to practice self-restraint and report wisely, not drawn on emotions.
“We cannot say the protest was led only by Copts and can’t point a finger on a certain side to blame. It was a riot by Egyptians,” Heikal said in a statement.