Speaking before Egypt’s parliament Tuesday afternoon, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim denied allegations that Central Security Forces (CSF) had used shotguns loaded with birdshot to disperse crowds of anti-government protesters during the last five days of clashes near the interior ministry building in downtown Cairo.
Instead, Ibrahim blamed the escalation on unknown third parties firing from within the crowds, noting that several police officers had also been injured by birdshot. His statements contradicted earlier testimony by several injured protesters that police had used birdshot against them.
The birdshot injuries of prominent activist Salma Said, 26, have been circulated widely on the internet and by local media. Said's mother, Mona Mina, a member of the board of Egypt’s doctors syndicate, confirmed that her daughter had been hit in the face, stomach and legs with over 100 birdshot pellets on Sunday.
"She was very lucky," said Mina. "One of the pellets was only 4 millimetres from her eye. Although there is some bleeding on her eyeball, it will not affect her sight."
Journalist Rasha Azab, who was with Said when the latter was shot near Mansour Street, described the attack: "A [CSF] armoured vehicle drove towards us firing birdshot. Salma and I fell to the ground as the shooting continued.
"The shooting went on for 15 seconds. I found Salma’s face covered in blood. The vehicle shot at us again," she recounted. Azab went on to explain that, when people came to Said's aid, those in the vehicle opened fire again – for a third time – at everyone present.
Field-hospital doctors at the scene confirmed that shotguns loaded with birdshot and tear gas had been heavily employed by police over the last five days. Sherif Hussein, a 32-year-old doctor at a makeshift clinic on Tahrir Street, told Ahram Online that the Bab Al-Louq field hospital had been forced to evacuate when police fired birdshot at both doctors and patients.
Abdul Zinaldin, 19, was wounded twice. "On Friday at around 6am, I was at the beginning of Mansour Street when an officer riding a CSF truck fired birdshot at me," said Zinaldin. "Pellets hit my face, very close to my eye. I was also injured on Sunday in an alleyway between Mansour and Al-Felaky streets. I recognised the police officer from earlier that afternoon – he shot at me, putting ten pellets in my leg."
Ahram Online talked to the graffiti artist and activist known as El-Moshir, who also said that the CSF had used birdshot.
"On Sunday, we saw a CSF vehicle coming out of the street, so we ran towards Al-Hamedeya market cafe [on Bab Al-Louq Street]," El-Moshir explained. "An officer on top of the vehicle fired several shots at about 40 of us. We were all wounded by shotgun fire. I got one birdshot pellet in my head, five in my leg and two in my back."
Eye doctor Ranya Sobhi confirmed to Ahram Online that, by the end of Thursday, 2 February – the first day of the latest round of clashes – hospitals had already received 14 protesters suffering birdshot injuries to their eyes. "Police have to stop using this kind of ammunition," Sobhi said.
These were not the first instances of police using birdshot to disperse crowds. Ahmed Harrara, a 31-year-old dentist, became a revolutionary icon after losing both eyes to birdshot, first on 28 January 2011 and again on 19 November.
There are also several documented cases of protesters dying since last year’s revolution due to the use of birdshot by police. On Monday, health ministry spokesman Hisham Shiha declared that, on the same day Said received her injuries, protester Ahmed Kenawy, 21, had succumbed to birdshot injuries to his neck and chest.
The interior minister stated in Tuesday's parliamentary session, however, that several police officers had also been wounded by birdshot. He went on to claim that armed third parties hiding among protesters had been responsible.
A parliamentary investigation into the recent clashes confirmed that a police general had suffered an ocular explosion while seven police officers had also been recently injured by birdshot.
The committee nevertheless held the interior ministry responsible for the violence, citing several birdshot injuries among protesters, including five suffering eye injuries. Committee head Osama Yassin called for the ministry to be "purged of corruption."
Many activists have called for the radical overhaul of the ministry and have blamed Egypt’s ruling military council for the escalating violence. Mona Mina, for her part, lodged a formal legal complaint against the interior minister and Field-Marshall Hussein Tantawi, alleging that both had used excessive force against protesters and that both had intentionally tried to kill her injured daughter.