CAIRO: Egypt’s worst violence in months escalated the confrontation between political forces and the ruling military ahead of a landmark presidential election, as suspected army supporters attacked mainly Islamist protesters outside the Defense Ministry Wednesday, sparking clashes that left at least 11 people dead.
Political parties swiftly blamed the ruling generals for the bloodshed and vowed the election must go ahead as planned to ensure the military’s removal from power.
Egypt has been plagued by sporadic bouts of deadly violence since the ouster of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak last year, but Wednesday’s killings took on added significance, coming just three weeks ahead of the presidential election. The killings also provided opponents of the military with more evidence the generals who took over from Mubarak are badly bungling the shift to democratic rule and acting much like their former mentor.
“We blame the military council for the bloodshed,” Islamist lawmaker Osama Yassin of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party told state television.
Around 1,000 protesters have been camped outside the Defense Ministry for days demanding an end to military rule. Most are supporters of disqualified presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Islamist barred from running because his late mother held dual Egyptian-U.S. citizenship, making him ineligible under election laws.
But the violence, which broke out at dawn, prompted other factions to join in. Throughout the day, thousands marched to the site of the clashes in the Cairo district of Abbasiyah, protesting into the evening surrounded by armored vehicles and lines of riot police.
The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood released a statement holding the military responsible and warning that Egyptians would show “no mercy” if the generals did not meet what it called the revolution’s demands.