CAIRO -- Adel Amer, 44, said he was one of those who beat protesters at a fierce and ultimately deadly standoff Wednesday in front of Egypt’s presidential palace between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi.
Amer said he had to do it. Morsi’s opponents were taking drugs that numb them to pain, he said. The police could not handle the melee on their own, so he and fellow members of the Muslim Brotherhood grabbed them, beat them and handed them over to officers.
“We had to beat them so they would confess,” he said, listing their crimes: starting the fighting, bribing others to cause trouble or working to undo the democratic election that Morsi won five months ago. “We had no other option. We protected the police.”
Friday was a day of reckoning for the worst political violence in the nearly two years since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. At least six people had been killed and hundreds injured in the battle outside the presidential palace, and a new war had emerged between the pro- and anti-Morsi camps in this bitterly polarized nation: Who incited the violence? Both sides charged the other with torturing and shooting the victims.
A lawyer representing the Muslim Brotherhood, the group through which Morsi rose to prominence, told McClatchy that of the 700 injured, 633 were Morsi supporters, and some had been abused by opposition protesters.
Meanwhile, one of the 15 lawyers representing the opposition, Ragia Orwan, said that 40 people had been beaten and tortured by members of the Brotherhood.
Another lawyer said the police should not have allowed the Brotherhood members to make arrests. Instead, they should have arrested those who were beating protesters, whatever their affiliation.
The police allowed the Brotherhood to make arrests to save the protesters’ lives, said Malek Adly, a human rights lawyer, representing the injured. If the police hadn’t taken custody, he said, the protesters might have been killed.
That the divide here led to violence heightened already passionate feelings on both sides. Each claimed to have suffered more injuries, more torture and more deaths at the hands of their opponents. And in the absence of security forces intervening to curtail the violence, each side also asserted that it was the proper defender of what the Egyptian people want from their first democratically elected government.
On Friday, the courts were packed with victims filing suits against those they felt were responsible for their injuries or the deaths of their loved ones. Opponents filed charges against Morsi, the minister of the interior and other top officials, saying they were liable because they did not carry out their duties to secure the nation.
Others, like Amer, filed charges against the opposition leadership – former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahi, Amr Moussa and Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who’s now been declared the leader of the opposition. Also named were members of the government of Mubarak, who were charged with inciting the violence.
There were funerals for the dead, and both sides remained unwavering in their positions on the scheduled constitutional referendum Dec. 15. It was clear that neither side could immunize itself from blame or violence, and there was no hope for talks to ease the tension. Opposition leaders rejected Morsi’s call to meet Saturday to discuss the issues, and by Friday night, thousands were back at the palace, calling for Morsi to go.