CAIRO -- In a battle over the narrative of what’s happened here during the past eight dramatic days, the new Egyptian government accused former President Mohammed Morsi on Thursday of being obstinate in his final days, claimed that his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood had killed some of their own to frame the military and asserted that its decision to oust Morsi may have saved the nation from “possible civil war.”
In a rare briefing with foreign reporters three days after a shootout with Morsi supporters that claimed 55 lives, military and government spokesmen used unusually provocative language to describe the Muslim Brotherhood, the secretive organization through which Morsi ascended to the presidency and that was, until a few days ago, the country’s dominant political power.
The military defended its decision to remove Morsi on July 3 and name a new president, and it accused the Muslim Brotherhood of conducting a “propaganda war,” though it was clear the spokesmen were waging a counteroffensive, all but calling the Brotherhood an enemy of the state, even as they pleaded with it to join the new government.
The war of words pits the country’s best-organized political movement against its most revered national institution, and there seemed little reason to expect anything approaching reconciliation.
The news conference began with a broadside from the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that offered no quarter.
“What we have witnessed over the past year is some kind of exclusion. That is not going to happen again,” Badr Abdelatty said in his opening comments, referring to the allegation that the Muslim Brotherhood had maneuvered to make certain it held all the reins of power. Minutes later, he said that in the days leading up to Monday’s shooting, the Brotherhood engaged in an “incitement campaign.”
“We have a just cause because the people went to the streets, and nobody can move against the will of the people,” Abdelatty said.
Military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali and Mohammed Badr Eldin Zayed, the chairman of the State Information Service, joined in the assault. The officials said Morsi was being “held for his safety.” He hasn’t been charged “yet,” Ali said.
Ali said the Muslim Brotherhood had used increasingly vitriolic language against the military in the days that led up to Monday’s violent confrontation with Morsi supporters near the Republican Guard headquarters, where many Morsi partisans think the deposed president is being held.
Ali said the military had worked hard to avoid bloodshed. It passed water to the crowds and tried to calm tensions with talk. But around dawn Monday, the Brotherhood tried to storm the Republican Guard headquarters, Ali said. The military used tear gas, rubber bullets and blank rounds before firing live ammunition. He said the troops had aimed at non-vital parts of the body, an assertion contradicted by several doctors, who told McClatchy of victims who’d been shot in the head, neck and chest.
Ali also accused Brotherhood sympathizers of killing some of their own number to make the army look bad.
“I doubt we have killed the number they are announcing,” he said.
“We are witnessing a sustained campaign of incitement for the use of violence,” Abdelatty added.
Such assertions offered little hope that a government investigation, called by transitional President Adly Mansour, will reveal what happened. The military said it had no recording that showed how the incident had started.
And on Thursday, officials charged that the Muslim Brotherhood and “terrorists” in restive Sinai are still attacking them.
The officials were dismissive of other reports of violence, as well. Asked about sexual abuse and harassment in Tahrir Square, Ali said there’d been “not one act of violence” on June 30, when millions called for Morsi to step down. Zayed called the reports of scores of sexual assaults there “a side issue.”
The news conference set the stage for a Muslim Brotherhood protest set for Friday. The Brotherhood has called its planned protest the Million Man March, and it will be a metric of the group’s continued support if that number turns out.
Ali estimated that somewhere between 23 million and 30 million had protested June 30 in a nation of 90 million, nearly double the military’s estimates of 14 million a week ago.