Egyptian candidate embraces conspiracy theory to explain killing of protesters

Robert Mackey writes: Three weeks ago, after the first round of Egypt’s presidential election set up a final runoff between a leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and a former general who served as Hosni Mubarak’s prime minister during last year’s revolution, the activist blogger Mahmoud Salem joked that the candidate of the old regime might be forced to embrace some sort of wild conspiracy theory to deflect responsibility for the killing of hundreds of protesters during the uprising.

Imagining what the former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, might say if the issue came up during a televised debate, Mr. Salem wrote that he might claim that protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square who were killed by snipers during one particularly chaotic and bloody day — remembered mainly for a bizarre horse and camel charge of Mubarak defenders — had been shot not by government agents but militants from Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist faction.

Although both candidates ultimately declined to participate in even an “indirect” debate, during an interview on Egyptian television last week, Mr. Shafiq did in fact try to shift the blame for the deaths of protesters from the government he served last February onto the shoulders of Muslim Brothers who took part in the demonstrations.

Speaking of those killed on Feb. 2, 2011, during what’s known in Egypt as the Battle of the Camel, the day of violence that followed the irregular cavalry charge, the standard bearer of the old regime claimed that the men attacking protesters from rooftops above Tahrir Square were not government-hired thugs, but Muslim Brothers.

Although Mr. Shafiq offered no proof for the accusation, and claimed only that he had “read this in a newspaper,” he also hinted darkly: “The day will come when the people will know the truth about who really killed the protesters in the square.”

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