SCAF fights hard using multimedia to clear Egypt army in Copts deaths

Zeinab El-Gundy, Wednesday 12 Oct 2011

The ruling military council told reporters Wednesday that it did not intentionally kill Coptic protesters calling for equal rights last Sunday, blamed deaths on 'radical priests' and 'foreign conspiracies' against the nation

SCAF Press conference (Photo: Zeinab El Gundy)

“Today, we will show facts.”

With these words, Major General Adel Emara, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF),  started the international press conference held Wednesday afternoon to present the army's version of the bloody clashes that took place on the night of 9 October at Maspero in downtown Cairo, which has fast become known as "Bloody Sunday".

In the early hours of Sunday evening military police,guarding the headquarters of the state TV building clashed with thousands of Coptic Christian protesters and their Muslim supporters who were nearing the last leg of a long peaceful march they organised to denounce a barrage of Church burnings that took place since the early days of the January 25th revolution.

Three hours of bloody street battles between the army and the police, and protesters left 25, mostly civilians, dead and 329 injured.

Survivors and eyewitnesses to the bloody clashes that took place charge that the army shot at peaceful protesters and its tanks crushed several people to death.

However, at the press conference, which also lasted for hours, General Emara insisted that military police could not have used live ammunition because he said his soldiers are only armed with anti-riot gear.

Furthermore, the major general denied that his armoured personal carriers had intentionally crushed protesters.

On the contrary, the SCAF representative said, Sunday's protest might have started in a peaceful fashion, but it turned violent when some individuals in the protest  attacked army soldiers and tanks with sticks, Molotov cocktails and swords without any provocation.

SCAF showed video clips taken from TV coverage, including Egyptian TV and German TV, to prove its claim that protesters violently attacked military police first.

Emara added that his troops were simply defending themselves, and protecting the state TV Building, which is one of Egypt's most important strategic facilities against attackers.

The major general reasoned that his troops at the TV Building could not have started the fight because they numbered a measely 300 military police soldiers  - compared to thousands of angry protesters.

He also denied that army vehicles ran over protesters intentionally, as several videos circulating on the internet seem to show.

Emara reasoned that soldiers whom he said were suddenly overwhelmed by charging protesters simply panicked, and might have acted frantically, but he insisted they did not systematically plow into demonstrators.

Major General Mahmoud Hegazy, who co-chaired the conference with General Emara, said that he could not confirm or deny the culpability of a third party, aside from the protesters themselves, in opening fire on his soldiers Sunday at the start of the clashes.

Hegazy attempted to quiet public accusations that the army discriminates against Christians in Egypt, and has failed to protect them against attacks from Islamic fundamentalists.

He insisted that the army respects all Egyptians regardless of religion,  highlighting that the armed forces were composed of all sectors of society.

Instead, SCAF representatives attempted to shift the blame for the deaths of Copts at Maspero on to those whom they referred to as "radical Christian priests", who allegedly incited the Coptic community, and planned violent protests against the state.

To back up their claim, SCAF members played videos for reporters that featured a man who appeared to be a Christian priest, judging by his garb, making serious physical threats against the governor of Aswan, whom many Egyptians accuse of condoning the burning of a church in Upper Egypt late last month - an incident which triggred Coptic and public anger and led ultimately to the clashes at Maspero last Sunday.

SCAF members faced some tough questions at the press conference.

“Who killed those protesters?," an Australian TV reporter asked SCAF's spokespeople towards the end of the conference.

"If the army did not kill the protesters, is it not considered a failure in intelligence, or a failure in tactics, or a failure to uphold your oath your to protect the people?,” he challenged the generals.

Hegazy answered by saying that SCAF was still trying to determine who actually killed the protesters, insisting that what happened did not amount to a failure in intelligence or tactics.

Hegazy added that securing large protests was the responsibility of the organisers not the army, giving examples of how previous protests had been peaceful in nature and ended with no injuries or deaths.

The generals declined to release to reporters the number of soldiers and officers killed during the clashes, although they showed a video clip of a badly injured soldier carried on a stretcher.

“We will not disclose the number of our martyrs in the armed forces on Sunday,” Hegazy said.

“We will not disclose that figure to keep up the morale of our forces."

Hegazy repeated to reporters that the armed forces had arrested more than twenty individuals it intends to prosecute in military courts for attacking the army.

The generals closed the press conference by expressing their hope that what they described as "the sad events" of last Sunday could mark, in their opinion, a turning point in "protecting the revolution."

They insisted that some whom they claimed do not want this revolution to move forward are trying to flame a fire of sectarian violence betwen Muslims and Christians to defeat it. They also urged the public to be vigilant against what they described as "foreign-sown conspiracies" that aim to destabilize the nation.

Meanwhile, a group of political and human rights activists announced Wednesday that they are planning to hold a press conference Thursday to respond to the ruling military council's version of the bloody clashes that took place at Maspero, Cairo on 9 October.

The activists response to SCAF has been called by The Revolution Youth Coalition, the Workers Democratic Party, The Popular Committees to defend the revolution, Revolutionary Socialists, the Popular Socialist Alliance Party and the National Front for Freedom and Justice.

Activists will feature eyewitness accounts that they say contradict the army's assertion that its units at the scene were attacked by some in the protests, and that the army did not 'intentionally'  run over peaceful protesters with armoured military vehicles.

The activists' press conference is set to take place at the headquarters of the liberal Tahrir daily newspaper in Dokki on Thursday 13 October at 12pm.

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