Egypt Targets ‘Terrorists’ in Ongoing Violence

As the death toll nears 1,000, Sophia Jones reports on the continuing violence in Egypt.

Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty

A little boy sells juice next to a truck carrying corpses. Incense fills the air, attempting to mask the overpowering smell of death surrounding Cairo’s Zeinhom morgue. An empty coffin sits next to an elderly man waiting to claim the body of just one of 37 pro-Morsi prisoners who, according to government officials, suffocated from tear gas Sunday when they attempted to escape their transfer to Abu Zaabal prison.

In a different account, state news channels reported that armed militants fired on a convoy carrying around 600 pro-Morsi prisoners rounded up from recent protests, killing several dozen men. The Ministry of Interior said prisoners died inside the jail.

“I came to see for myself what really happened to the prisoners,” said a young man standing nearby. “A friend of mine filmed inside the morgue and said the bodies had torture marks and bullet holes.”

Photographs leaked from inside Zeinhom morgue show charred and blistered bodies strewn on the floor. Some of the corpses were too disfigured for families to recognize.

Following the prisoners’ deaths, two dozen police conscripts were killed execution style by armed militants in the Sinai Peninsula near the Gaza border Monday, according to state television. Their bodies were reportedly found face down in the sand, some with their hands still behind their backs. Attacks on security apparatus in the Sinai are now commonplace.

“The world is declaring a war against Egypt,” said a guest on state-owned Nile TV on Sunday night, citing U.S. Marines near the Mediterranean, Israeli “enemies,” Islamists, and Western media. “CNN is working with the CIA, of course,” he said emphatically. Following the discussion, the news channel played nationalistic songs with the banner “Egypt Fighting Terrorism.”

On popular privately owned television channel ONtv, footage of the Rabaa Islamist sit-in dispersal that killed well over 600 protesters was played along with the Rocky theme song. Attacks on Coptic churches, police officers, and government buildings are often televised, citing the Muslim Brotherhood as instigating and carrying out relentless violence.

Ever since Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call for the Egyptian people to give him a mandate to fight terrorism, the word “terrorist” has become a common word. It is heard in official speeches addressing the nation, whispered in cafés in downtown Cairo, and blasted from taxi radios. Press packets given out to foreign journalists at press conferences have been titled “Egypt Fighting Terrorism.”

At least 250 Muslim Brotherhood supporters are currently under investigation on attempted murder, murder, and terrorism charges, according to the MENA state news agency. Thousands more have been arrested, and the death toll—protesters and police combined—has reached nearly 1,000 people since Wednesday.

In recent days, foreign governments have condemned the bloodshed in Egypt. Germany suspended aid to Egypt; Turkey and Ecuador recalled their ambassadors; the U.K. suspended security coordination to Egypt; and the European Union is set to meet Wednesday to discuss possibly cutting aid.

Amid the government crackdown and a country torn apart by bloodshed comes the news that former president Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled following the 2011 revolution, could be soon be freed from jail. While anger erupted among many Egyptians who took part in the popular revolution to oust the decades-long dictator, others were overjoyed, citing prerevolution days as what they see as a more peaceful, prosperous time.

As the death toll ticks higher, there is no clear political solution in sight, and pro-Morsi protests are still being planned. Many Egyptians fear that this coming Friday, like last Friday, will once again bring war to Cairo’s streets.

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“There is room for everyone in Egypt,” al-Sisi said in a televised address Sunday. “We are cautious about every drop of Egyptian blood.” But in his impassioned address, he added a harsh warning: terrorism would not be tolerated.