Egypt’s ruling military apologized on Thursday for the deaths of demonstrators caused by police as protesters continue to demand the immediate end to military rule.
A protester runs after setting fire to a car during clashes with police in front of the Security Administrative building in Alexandria 23 November 2011. (Photo: REUTERS - Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
At least 35 people have been killed so far between protesters and police, and over 2,000 injured since clashes erupted on Saturday, according to official health ministry sources.
Egyptian news site, BikyaMasr, warned the death toll could be much higher, citing medical sources in Cairo’s hospitals who allege 90 have been killed.
Egyptian security forces have been battling to dislodge demonstrators camped at Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, the site of the revolution that ended the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak earlier in the year.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued its apology via Facebook in a bid to placate protesters as anger mounts over the brutal police methods used to quell protests.
"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces presents its regrets and deep apologies for the deaths of martyrs from among Egypt’s loyal sons during the recent events in Tahrir Square," it said in a statement on its Facebook page.
"The council also offers its condolences to the families of the martyrs across Egypt."
The SCAF vowed to investigate and prosecute all those behind the deaths.
It also pledged to offer assistance to the families of the dead and injured, and to set up a military field hospital in Tahrir Square.
Protests are expected to continue into its seventh day, as demonstrators insist on an immediate transfer of power to civilian rule.
The police crackdown also shows no signs of abating, with Egyptian-American columnist Mona al-Tahawy arrested and beaten on Wednesday night after joining the protests. Her last post on Twitter said she was "beaten arrested in interior ministry."
The rising death toll prompted an unusually strongly worded statement from al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning, urging police not to shoot at demonstrators.
Grand imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb said that any dialogue "stained with blood is doomed and its fruit will be bitter."
Al-Azhar "calls on the police leadership to immediately issue orders not to point their weapons at demonstrators... no matter what the reasons," Tayyeb said in a recorded address broadcast on state television.
Social media has been flooded with shocking videos and images of police brutality, as protesters remain steadfast in resisting police attempts to dislodge demonstrators from the streets.
The SCAF apology comes days after the interim ruler of Egypt, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, offered to bring forward the date of the presidential elections from 2013 to June 2012.
Tantawi — who served as Defense Minister under Mubarak — said he was also ready to transfer power immediately, through a referendum, "should the people wish it."
Activists are doubting the sincerity of Tantawi’s offer, after months of military rule that have raised concerns about SCAF’s commitment to a full democratic transition.
"We can’t trust what he says. The ball has been in SCAF’s court for months, and they didn’t do anything," said Ibtisam al-Hamalawy, 50, referring to the ruling SCAF.
"Tantawi is Mubarak, copy pasted. He’s Mubarak in a military uniform," said Ahmed Mamduh, 35, an accountant.
The SCAF reimposed Egypt’s dreaded emergency laws in September, and continue to detain activists, journalists, and bloggers, while still conducting civilian trials in military courts.
The final straw which catapulted Egyptians back onto the streets was a proposed constitution that would grant the military immunity from public or parliamentary scrutiny, effectively placing the armed forces above the law.
The protests come on the eve of the first parliamentary elections scheduled to be held since the fall of Mubarak on November 28.
Egypt’s Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy proposed delaying the elections due to the protests on Al Jazeera television on Thursday.
english.al-akhbar.com, November 24, 2011.
(al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)