CAIRO – At least 95 people died in central Cairo on Friday, as Egypt’s
fast-deteriorating security situation took another turn for the
Street battles raged across a number of the city’s most affluent
neighborhoods after tens of thousands of supporters of former president Mohamed
Morsi heeded calls to march on a downtown square as part of a “Day of Rage,”
following Wednesday’s massacres.
Many Cairenes feared that Friday – the
traditional day of protest in Arab countries – would see further
In the early hours before noon prayers, residents stocked up
on essentials, secured apartment building entrances and settled in for another
barrage of awful news.
By early afternoon, the bridges spanning the Nile
River and main thoroughfares leading to Ramses Square (just to the north of
Tahrir Square and next to Cairo’s principal train station) were swamped with
crowds, chanting their fury at the security forces.
“The army and the
police are one dirty hand,” they shouted.
“Sisi, killer!” they roared,
registering their wrath at the army chief who green-lit Morsi’s
Many in the crowd – bearded men and fully veiled women –
conformed to the Islamist profile, but others in the peaceful throng processing
across the May 15 Bridge in the blisteringly hot afternoon sun were hardly
natural Morsi supporters.
“I never liked Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood,
but I want democracy, and not the army in charge,” engineering student Muhammad
Crossing the bridge on the approach to the square, the
marchers soon came under attack from residents and local thugs – often thought
to be in league with the police – in the apartment buildings on either side of
the road. Birdshot, stones and the occasional live bullet came raining down on
the tightly knit pack.
Amid the screams of casualties, several marchers
took pistols from their bags and unraveled prayer mats, revealing their rifles.
A fierce gun battle ensued, while most in the march went streaming back over the
Across the city, such exchanges between Morsi supporters and
fiercely pro-military local residents continued largely unimpeded.
officers had retreated to their stations and withdrawn their detachments from
outside most embassies for fear that isolated units would be open to revenge
In their absence, neighborhood watches brandishing sticks and
machetes patrolled the streets, questioning unfamiliar faces and blocking the
roads off to cars.
In Ramses Square, clashes continued into early evening
until the remaining Morsi protesters, including dangerous militants – according
to security forces – sought sanctuary in the enormous al-Fath
Incensed Morsi supporters insist the high death toll hasn’t
sapped their intent to continue protesting for at least another week, but the
attacks from local residents add another deeply disturbing dimension to Egypt’s
Ahmed, a security guard at a bank, is one of what appear to be an
increasing number of Egyptians who think the military and the interim government
will live to rue the day they dispersed the protest camps.
“I’m 50 years
old and this is the worst violence I’ve ever seen. I wish we could go back to
two months ago,” he said.