CAIRO -- Egyptian presidential advisor Mustafa Hegazy described them as remnants of “religious fascism” that once governed the nation. The police called them infidels as they cleared a mosque Saturday where they were either hiding or shooting, depending on which side you listened to. Newscasters referred to them as armed gunmen.
And on the streets of Cairo, in front of the latest clashes, nearby residents used the terms animals, barbarians, and terrorists to describe supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
It is why so many shrug at word that at least 1,042 people have been killed since June 26, according to an AFP count. It is why so many Egyptians support the government’s continued deadly crackdown of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the secret organization through which Morsi ascended to the presidency. Over and over again, government officials, the media and now everyday Egyptians repeat the same message: supporters of the ousted regime are enemies of the state, killing security forces in an effort to destroy the nation.
“What are the police supposed to do when armed men are attacking them? Said a reporter covering a government press conference. “They have no choice. They are defending Egypt.”
For those opposed to military rule, dying for the cause of returning their democratic right to govern or in retribution for those killed is an act of Islamic martyrdom. The Brotherhood exploits every death, every clash, portraying themselves as victims.
The result is an Egypt turning into a battleground between willing assassins and willing martyrs. Those against the military believe they are defending Islam and a democratic election they prevailed in a year ago that was undone by the Morsi’s military ouster. Those who support the military believe they are securing the state from armed Islamists.
To be sure, reporters and witnesses have seen Islamists armed with machine guns and Molotov cocktails. And government officials allege that Islamists armed with guns shot at them from the minaret in Cairo’s El-Fateh Mosque Friday, creating a two-day showdown between forces and the Islamists locked inside. But more often, McClatchy reporters have seen Islamists throwing rocks or chanting against the regime when they are met with police gunfire.
According to government officials at least 173 people have died from Friday’s clashes, which extended to Saturday, spurred by Wednesday’s clashes that killed at least 638 according to government figures. Thousands of Islamists and known terrorists have been detained including Mohammed al Zawahiri, brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, who was arrested Saturday in the restive Sinai.
All day Friday and Saturday, Egyptian troops and police were stationed around El-Fateh Mosque, trying to clear it of the scores of Islamists locked inside after clashes erupted during their “Day of Rage” Friday.
Police moved into the mosque. A few minutes later gunfire started, however it was not clear who was shooting. Seconds later gunfire was seen coming out of the mosque minaret, then very heavy gunfire started taking place from the security forces.
Outside, residents vowed to mow down Islamists trying to escape. “Sissi! Sissi!” they yelled at the Islamists, referring to Gen. Abdel-Fatah el Sissi, the minster of defense and de facto leader of an Egypt now governed by a military-appointed civilian government. "The people and army are one hand,” they chanted, hoisting a soldier on their shoulders at one point.