Committee mainly blames Morsi supporters for last year's bloodshed

Ahram Online , Wednesday 26 Nov 2014

Security forces cleared Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins with haste - but Islamists shoulder blame for violent upheaval, says fact-finding committee

Rabaa Adawiya
Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi hold sticks while standing guard in front of sandbags and barricades at the entrance to their camp at Rabaa Adawiya square, in Nasr City area, east of Cairo August 11, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

A state-formed committee has put the onus of much of the deadly violence following the 2013 ouster of president Mohamed Morsi on his Islamist supporters, saying that security forces had the legal right to forcibly disperse Islamist protest camps last year, in one of the country's worst accounts of bloodshed in recent years.

The fact-finding body, formed in December 2013, said in a report made public on Wednesday that 607 civilians and eight policemen were killed in the clearing of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Cairo's Rabaa Al-Adaweya. Some 1,492 civilians and 156 policemen were injured in the violence and 51 firearms were seized from the location of the vigil.

The report said that 88 others, including two security personnel, were killed and 366 wounded in the dispersal of the second protest camp at Giza's Nahda Square, in the final official figure about the killings – the worst in Egypt's modern history.

"The sit-in[s] were not peaceful, neither before nor during the dispersal, and all legal rationale was available for the police to forcibly break up the gathering after efforts for a voluntary evacuation failed," read the report.

At Rabaa, police aimed to clear the square and not kill protesters but had to respond to gunfire from armed demonstrators, the report added, saying that an ultimatum was issued before the dispersal and that forces provided a safe exit for protesters, with some refusing leave while others were evacuated by force.

"Police gradually used force, first using water cannons and tear gas," the report said. "Live ammunition was only used after killings and injury occurred within its ranks."

The Brotherhood has put the day's death toll in the thousands. But the report said the group leaders and Islamist supporters declined to work together with the committee and failed to provide evidence pertaining to their alleged number of deaths.

The Brotherhood, to which Morsi belongs, views his toppling as a coup and refuses to recognise the interim authorities under which the committee was set up. A few Islamists, however, including some detainees, worked limitedly with the committee.

The committee said the responsibility of the large number of deaths at Rabaa falls on the leaders of the sit-ins, who armed some of the protesters, as well as the police, which failed to target those who were shooting from within the protesters. Demonstrators were also blamed for continuing to be present at an armed sit-in.

It stressed that authorities are held accountable for failing to hold back the size of the Rabaa sit-in.

The government hesitated between dispersing the sit-in quickly, with all the side effects of such a decision, and dispersing it with fewer costs over a longer period of time. However, it chose the first option in order to protect the authority of the state, the report said.

"The government could have opted for drying up the human element of the sit-in, leading a wide media campaign to announce its intention to disperse the sit-in and get people involved in removing their sons from this non-peaceful protest," the report added.

The report detailed other deadly violence that took place before the dispersal.

On 8 July 2013, less than a week after Morsi's removal, 59 civilians were killed when Islamists, mainly from the Rabaa camp, marched to a Cairo military barracks, the Republican Guard compound, where the ousted leader was thought to have been held after his toppling.

The first five deaths occurred when demonstrators attempted to attack the military building, claims the report. Protesters later opened fire and threw Molotov cocktails at forces who responded by firing back. Two security personnel were killed in the violence.

In another bloody incident, Islamists on 26-27 July 2013 clashed with opposing civilians on the fringes of the Rabaa vigil in northeast Cairo near a military parade ground. The report placed the death toll at 95 civilians and one policeman. It said police stepped in to try and break up the fighting, and that forces later fired at protesters after a policeman was shot dead and another was injured.

The Brotherhood said at the time that at least 120 were killed.

The committee said available information was not sufficient to identify the culprits of all these deaths and that judicial investigations were underway.

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