CAIRO – As the Muslim Brotherhood reeled from the deaths of dozens of supporters Monday, many of its opponents voiced skepticism of the Islamists' claims that Egyptian soldiers fired on peaceful demonstrators while they were saying the dawn prayer.
The Brotherhood and the army “have been playing a political game with each other for a long time,” shrugged Islam Amed, a 25-year-old student sitting under a banner in Cairo's Tahrir Square. “I think the Brotherhood provoked the army to get this response.”
Tamer Tota, a 28-year-old with a black kaffiyeh wrapped around his head, nodded in agreement. He said he’d heard that it was Brotherhood supporters who first attacked soldiers posted outside the headquarters of the Republican Guard in eastern Cairo, forcing the military to retaliate.
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- El-Tahrir Square, Cairo Governorate, Egypt
At least 51 demonstrators were killed, according to Egyptian health officials.
“From the information we have, the Brotherhood tried to attack the building,” Tota said. “We heard that the Brotherhood started to push people to the front and even to shoot each other on purpose to hurt the image of the Republican Guards.”
As loudspeakers blared radio reports of the incident across Tahrir Square, the heart of the protests that led to the removal of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi as president in a military coup, many here voiced skepticism of the Islamists’ account. The sentiment reflects the deepening distrust between the two sides of a divided Egypt, neither of which seems willing to take the other’s claims at face value.
The Egyptian army said an “armed terrorist group” tried to break into the Republican Guard headquarters, where pro-Morsi supporters have staged a sit-in for days.
“The reports say that the army assaulted them while they were praying, but of course this isn’t true,” said Ibrahim Allaga, a 23-year-old who runs a T-shirt business. “This has never happened in Egyptian history, that the army would attack people while they pray. This is a rumor started by terrorist groups to get the support of the Egyptian people.”
Although some expressed sympathy for the loss of life, often in the very next breath they would point out that they had suffered heavy casualties too. Egyptian security forces didn’t intervene Friday night during hours of heavy street battles between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators in the streets around Tahrir Square, Amed said.
“The army knows when to move into action and when not to,” he said.
The mood in Tahrir, which was quiet Monday with just a couple hundred people milling about, suggested that the anti-Morsi faction would remain loyal to the Egyptian military after it bowed to protests and removed the president from power last Wednesday.
Mustafa Mahmoud, a gray-haired construction worker in his 40s, said the army helped ensure the downfall of Egypt's longtime leader, Hosni Mubarak, in a similar revolt two years ago.
“The soldiers are the ones who saved us” in 2011, Mahmoud said. “The ones who are creating problems now are the enemies of Egypt. They are not going to let things go smoothly.”