Egypt’s military more brutal than Mubarak regime, eyewitnesses say

Al-Masry Al-Youm reports: A day after Egypt’s military rulers provided their account of this week’s deadly clashes between soldiers and mostly Christian protesters, activists responded with an opposing narrative that accused the army of committing brutalities hitherto unseen under former President Hosni Mubarak.

Armed with videos of the clashes, human rights activists, lawyers and victims’ families who witnessed the incident told their side of the story on Thursday at a news conference. The clashes, which happened on Sunday, left at least 26 killed and more than 300 injured.

“The performance of the military, which always took pride in never firing a bullet at the revolutionaries, surpassed that of Mubarak’s mercenaries. It shed the blood of Egyptians in cold blood and with the cruelest of means, even throwing dead bodies in the Nile in an attempt to cover up their crimes,” read a statement signed by at least 12 political parties and youth groups and distributed to local and foreign media at the conference.

On the stage, Mary Daniel, sister of Mina Daniel, who was killed on Sunday, sat in her mourning black to describe what happened in the Coptic-led march which began in Shubra and ended in tragedy once demonstrators reached the Maspero area in downtown Cairo.

“I was with Mina,” said Daniel. “We marched from Shubra until we reached Maspero. It was a long distance. If we had been armed, people would have resisted us from the beginning. We were peaceful.”

After reaching Maspero, “We saw an influx of armored vehicles, bullets, tear gas bombs and stones,” said Daniel. “The scene was horrible. Even if we were in the middle of a war, things would not have been like that.”

Mariz Tadros writes: At first, it looked like a repeat of the worst state brutality during the January 25 uprisings that unseated the ex-president of Egypt, Husni Mubarak: On Sunday, October 9, security forces deployed tear gas, live bullets and armored vehicles in an effort to disperse peaceful protesters in downtown Cairo. Joined by Muslim sympathizers, thousands of Coptic Christians had gathered that afternoon in front of the capital’s state television and radio building, known as Maspero, and in many other parts of Egypt, to protest the burning of a church in the Upper Egyptian village of al-Marinab. A few days earlier, their initial demonstrations had also been met with violence.

What happened next, however, was worse than any single incident of state violence in January and February: Captured live by the cameras of the al-‘Arabiyya satellite channel, armored personnel carriers bearing army markings sped toward the protesters, at one point bumping cumbrously over curbs and a sidewalk, and crushed several people to death underneath their massive treads. By night’s end, 17 demonstrators were dead, and 300 more injured, some in critical condition. The death toll is now at least 25 and counting. Furthermore, the army’s claim to fame during the January-February popular uprising — that it would not, under any circumstances, harm Egyptian civilians — has now been given the definitive lie.

How it all started is hotly debated. At a press conference on October 12, representatives of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt’s de facto ruling authority since Mubarak’s ouster, insisted that the army did not attack first or even engage the demonstrators. Some SCAF defenders put forward the notion that the army did engage, but only because it was provoked by the assaults of the protesters. Others argue that “thugs” of unknown provenance infiltrated the demonstration to foment chaos and invite the army’s retaliation. Yet the overwhelming thrust of eyewitness accounts, from both Muslims and Christians, is that the army initiated the violence, first throwing stones, then wielding batons, then firing live ammunition, before taking the grim final step of grinding protesters into the pavement. Certainly, several protesters threw stones as well, but eyewitnesses are adamant that they did so in response to the bullets being shot at them.

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