Egyptian police have cleared protesters from a mosque as the death toll from four days of violence has surpassed 750. The country's interim government is considering disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood.
The standoff at the Al-Fath mosque in central Ramses Square began on Friday, with security forces surrounding the building where supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi had taken shelter. The adherents of the Muslim Brotherhood had turned the mosque into a field hospital for injured protesters on Friday, and then, later, into a makeshift morgue, lining up the bodies of dozens of demonstrators killed that day.
At least 1,300 were injured and 173 were killed across Egypt in protests and the state response on Friday, including 95 in Cairo, and 25 in Alexandria, bringing the death toll to more than 750 since Wednesday, when police cleared camps of Morsi loyalists in the capital.
By Saturday afternoon, the situation had turned even more violent, with news agencies reporting that gunmen inside the mosque had begun to trade fire with the police outside. Police eventually dragged people from inside the mosque, firing in the air to hold back residents of the area who tried to attack the Islamists with sticks and iron bars.
Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said that authorities had no choice but to use force in the wake of recent violence. "I feel sorry for valuable blood shed," el-Beblawi said. However, he added that his acting government would not engage in "reconciliation with those whose hands are stained with blood or those who hold weapons against the country's institutions."
Banning the Brotherhood
On Saturday, the interim Cabinet's spokesman announced that el-Beblawi had assigned the Ministry of Social Solidarity to study the legal possibilities of dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood.
"We are calling for declaring the Brotherhood as a terrorist group," said Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, a leader of the Tamarod movement, which organized June's mass rallies for Morsi's ouster.
Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood took power when Morsi won the 2012 elections, the country's first free vote after the overthrow of the autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The Brotherhood has faced bans for most of its history, and, under Mubarak, repeated crackdowns.
On Friday, the Anti-Coup Alliance of Morsi supporters had announced that the "day of rage" protests would end shortly after an evening curfew came into effect, but pledged daily demonstrations going forward. With no reports of protests in Cairo on Saturday, it remains unclear whether supporters had heeded that call.
Egypt's interim Interior Ministry announced Saturday that police had arrested 1,004 Brotherhood "elements" over the past few days. Under emergency rules declared by the government this week, police may use firearms in self-defense and against demonstrators who attack state buildings. The acting government also reported that it would deal firmly with what it called "powers of terrorism and sabotage."
"We will face extremism and terrorism through enforcing law and sovereignty on everyone," Presidential political adviser Mustafa Hegazy said. "Egypt is not a weak state."
mkg/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)