Egypt presidency race haunted by tit-for-tat 'Camel Battle' claims

Ekram Ibrahim, Monday 11 Jun 2012

Muslim Brotherhood responds to presidential finalist Ahmed Shafiq's claims that group played role in last year's 'Battle of Camel,' describes allegations as 'ludicrous'

Battle of the camel
Archive photo: a supporter of President Hosni Mubarak, on camel, fights with anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo: AP)

Only days before Egypt's presidential runoff, candidates are pelting each other with allegations. One of the most remarkable of these is the claim by Ahmed Shafiq, presidential finalist and Mubarak's last prime minister, that the Muslim Brotherhood had killed and injured anti-regime protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the infamous "Battle of the Camel," which took place at the height of the popular uprising that led to the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak.

Shafiq claimed that Muslim Brotherhood members had been seen atop buildings overlooking the square, from where they hurled Molotov cocktails on protesters below.

On a television talk show Sunday, activist-businessman Mamdouh Hamza and senior Brotherhood figure Mohamed El-Beltagi responded to the allegations.

According to Hamza, General Hassan El-Rewini, a member of Egypt's ruling military council, had told him he had seen "men with beards" atop buildings near the square. In response, El-Rewini had asked Salafist preacher Safwat Hegazy to order them down. Otherwise, El-Rewini warned, the men would be shot.

Although he is very close to the Brotherhood, Hegazy is not a member of the Islamist group.

Shafiq repeated the same story, but said the conversation had been between El-Rewini and El-Beltagi.

In July of last year, El-Rewini admitted in a televised phone interview to having "spread rumours" during the 18-day uprising.

Hamza explained that the so-called "Battle of the Camel" had happened in phases: a first phase in which knives and clubs were used; a second phase, in which thugs arrived in government cars and attacked protesters with ceramic and marble stones; and a third phase, in which Molotov cocktails and guns were used against demonstrators.

Meanwhile, El-Beltagi, secretary-general of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), described the allegations as "ludicrous," saying it was illogical to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood had been responsible for killing protesters during last year's uprising. "Shafiq acts as if Egyptians' memories can be deleted," he said during the interview.

As for the Battle of the Camel, in which 11 people were killed and hundreds injured, El-Beltagi told a different story. He said that, while in Tahrir Square that day, he had met a major-general named Abdel-Fattah who had told him to steer clear of the bloodshed that would take place that day.

"Mubarak supporters will come to the square today and many will die," El-Beltagi said Abdel-Fattah had told him.

A Cairo criminal court is still investigating the incident, in which several former regime figures have been accused of involvement.

Shafiq, El-Rewini and Hamza were all supposed to make court appearances on Monday to give testimony, but both El-Rewini and Shafiq failed to show up. Hamza, however, delivered his testimony.

On Tuesday, the court is scheduled to hear testimony from El-Beltagi and Hegazy.

Many Egyptians hold Shafiq responsible for the Battle of the Camel, as he was serving as prime minister – Mubarak's last – at the time.

Meanwhile, several revolutionary groups and figures have slammed Shafiq's recent attempts to blame the Brotherhood – which currently holds almost half the seats in parliament – for killing unarmed protesters.

Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi is slated to face off with Shafiq in a hotly-contested runoff vote on 16 and 17 June.

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