Eleven people were killed in Cairo on Wednesday when armed men attacked hundreds
of people rallying against their presidential candidate’s disqualification and
demanding an end to army rule.
The attacks – which targeted mostly
hardline Salafi Islamist protesters – prompted a number of leading presidential
candidates to suspend their campaigns in shows of solidarity.
for supporters of the banned Salafi candidate Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail blamed the
attacks on hired “thugs” doing the bidding of the country’s military
They warned the generals not to use it as a pretext to delay
For its part, the army reaffirmed its stated commitment
to hand power to civilians by July 1, and said it might even step down earlier
if presidential elections produce a clear winner.
Also on Wednesday,
presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who served briefly as prime minister before
president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year, said that if elected he would be
willing to visit the Jewish state as long as the visit served the interests of
“I’d be willing to visit Israel on condition that it gave me proof
it had good intentions,” he said on the Egyptian station CBC.
conducted this week by the state-run Al- Ahram Center found Shafiq a distant
third behind exforeign minister Amr Moussa and the independent Islamist Abdel
Moneim Abol Fotouh in presidential polling.
Kurt Werthmuller, an Egypt
expert at Washington’s Hudson Institute, said he doubts Wednesday’s violence
will be the last of the campaign season.
“The political disputes that are
deeply ingrained in this presidential campaign are far more likely to spill over
into Egypt’s most prominent political battleground of ‘the street’ than they are
to remain in the discourse of networks and newspapers,” he said.
is a massive segment of the Egyptian population that remains largely politically
disengaged and has long since grown weary of revolutionary politics.
many, this violence may further push them to support a presidential candidate
who represents stability and familiarity rather than one who more explicitly
represents a revolutionary break with the past,” Werthmuller told The Jerusalem
Post. “Many Egyptians outside activist circles may no longer want the
‘revolution to continue,’ and they may yet prove that at the ballot
After meeting generals on Wednesday, politicians said the ruling
Supreme Council of the Armed Forces might hand over to civilian rule earlier
than planned in the unlikely event that elections produce an outright
Few Egyptians expect any one of the 13 candidates to secure more
than 50 percent support in the May 23- 24 vote, which is likely to go to a
runoff in June.
“Now we are studying how to end the
Today the military council said it would hand power over on May
24 if there is an outright win in the presidential election,” Ahmed al-Fadali,
head of the Democratic Peace Party, told reporters, echoing comments by other
politicians after the meeting.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s biggest
Islamist group that dominates a parliament elected in December, refused to join
talks with the generals, saying Wednesday’s violence showed the army was trying
to “obstruct the handover of power.”
The Brotherhood’s presidential
candidate Mohamed Mursi suspended campaigning for two days, saying they would be
mourning the dead. Several political groups said they would call on followers to
mass in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday.
“I think it will be the
practical response to all of what is happening now, be it the blood being spilt
or the foot-dragging in the defined date for handing over power,” said senior
Brotherhood official Essam el- Erian.
Abol Fotouh, the independent
Islamist candidate, suspended campaigning indefinitely in protest, a spokesman
On Twitter, Abol Fotouh said he could not now take part in an
unprecedented televised debate with Moussa planned for Thursday “when today our
youths are drowning in their blood.”
Moussa said: “The number of dead and
injured foreshadows a disaster and it is unacceptable for security agencies to
stand and watch as clashes continue and blood is shed.”
judicial sources gave a toll of 11 dead and over 160 wounded.
Interior Ministry said seven had died.
For hours after the dawn raid,
security forces seemed unable or unwilling to put an end to the violence. As
fighting raged near the Defense Ministry in the Abbasiya district of central
Cairo, Reuters reporters saw men carrying guns, and one with a sword, while
protesters threw rocks, bottles and petrol bombs. Only in the afternoon did riot
police arrive in large numbers to break up the melee.
Ahmed Shahir, 24, a
pharmacology student working at a makeshift clinic set up the scene, said men he
described as thugs fired shots at an encampment of protesters, including mostly
Abu Ismail supporters but also members of prodemocracy youth
Local residents joined in the attack on the
Among the protesters were hardcore soccer fans and diehard
revolutionaries skilled in street combat who dashed back and forth across
debris-scattered streets, hurling rocks.
Wounded men were hauled away and
others filled bottles with gasoline to throw at their opponents.
is the army?” cried a bystander. “Why are they not stopping these people?”
Reuters contributed to this report.