Egypt’s military-backed interim government followed through on its threats to take action on demonstrating supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi early this morning, using bulldozers and tear gas to clear the camps in Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque and Cairo University.
The country’s health ministry reports at least five deaths, while the Muslim Brotherhood claims 120 of its supporters have been killed, with the death toll likely to rise as the inevitable battle between security forces and demonstrators ensues.
Apparently the initial plan to clear the camps, which were erected on June 28, was to use loudspeakers and drop ‘please leave’ leaflets from helicopters, but when this didn’t work, forces began to bulldoze the tents, firing tear gas at the crowds, and locals have reported hearing live fire near the Rabaa Mosque.
With tens of thousands of Morsi supporters, including families with young children, there are fears the ‘clear out’ could turn into a blood bath.
The Ministry of Interior released a statement this morning saying: “Upon the government’s assignment to take necessary measures against the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins, and out of national responsibility to protect citizens’ security, the security forces have started to take necessary measures to disperse both sit-ins.
“It will provide safe exit for protesters and will not pursue them, except those who are wanted by prosecutors. The ministry is keen not to shed any Egyptian blood.”
On Sunday, interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said the protesters had “broken all the limits of peacefulness”, listing crimes the demonstrators had allegedly committed, including incitement of violence, the use of weapons, blocking roads and detaining citizens.
The protesters are campaigning against the military removal of Egypt’s President from office on July 3. The forces say this was in response to public protests by millions, whereas Mursi’s supporters argue that he is Egypt’s democratically elected president and that the army’s actions amounted to a coup. They are demanding his immediate reinstatement.
Nearly 300 people have been killed in street clashes since the overthrow of Dr Mursi. There has also been sectarian violence against Christians, with many beaten and killed, with their houses and businesses burnt to the ground.
The Ministry of the Interior says Cairo University has been cleared, but thousands still remain at Rabaa.