Both local residents and demonstrators supporting former President Mohamed Morsy died in clashes on the night of July 2, 2013 near Cairo University, Human Rights Watch informs. The clashes were the deadliest incident of the past week, with 18 people reported dead. Egypt’s transitional authorities should ensure prompt, impartial investigations to determine who was responsible for killings during the political unrest since late June, in which at least 32 people have died.
In the clash near Cairo University, the dead included both local residents and Morsy supporters. Based on visits to hospitals and a morgue and interviews with 15 witnesses, Human Rights Watch identified 11 of the dead, including at least 4 residents of the area and at least 3 participants in a rally and march to support Morsy.
“The deaths on the streets of Egypt over the past several days cry out for an impartial investigation,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The available information indicates that both supporters and opponents of Morsy – and possibly security forces as well – were responsible for needless loss of life.”
Human Rights Watch spoke with six of the people injured in the clashes as well as other witnesses. Supporters of Morsy said that civilians – whom they could not identify but described as “thugs”, or baltagiya – and security forces were responsible for some killings. Residents of the area said that Brotherhood supporters attacked them, and shot and injured a police officer.
Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch agreed that police were at the scene briefly but did not intervene to stop the bloodshed. Residents of Bein al-Sarayat, the area where the clashes took place, said they called the police and the army, but, as one put it, “No one came.”
The newspaper Al Masry al Youm reported that Health Minister Mohamed Mostafa Hamed said on July 3 that 18 people had died in the violence near the university during the previous night, and that violence across Egypt since June 30 had left 32 people dead.
On the afternoon of July 2, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters gathered in Nahda Square near Cairo University, in the Giza district of Cairo, for a rally on behalf of Morsy’s presidency. Several Morsy supporters told Human Rights Watch they had come under attack by unidentified “thugs” while walking toward the university from the northeast to attend the rally. The Morsy supporters began marching with others on Ahmed Zewail Street, along the university’s northern edge, toward Tharwat Bridge.
At around 5 p.m., fighting broke out between marchers and people in the buildings on the north side of the street. Several local residents told Human Rights Watch that scuffles began when marchers attacked university students holding up anti-Morsy posters. Violence escalated when residents ran to help the students and were attacked by Morsy supporters, the witnesses said. Two residents showed Human Rights Watch large, fresh wounds on their heads that they said were caused by Morsy supporters wielding clubs and wooden and metal sticks.
Both pro- and anti-Morsy witnesses said they heard gunfire beginning at about 6 p.m. Residents who participated in the clashes acknowledged they armed themselves with stones, rocks, and knives, and Morsy supporters acknowledged that some of them carried guns. Morsy supporters said they came under gunfire from people in buildings on the northern side of Ahmed Zewail street, before reaching Tharwat Bridge, and residents of the area said that gunmen on the roof of a university building on the south side of the street as well as Morsy supporters fired on them. Morsy supporters acknowledged detaining, questioning, and severely beating some men they identified as paid “thugs” who had attacked the march on Ahmed Zewail street.
Exchanges of gunfire intensified at around 10 or 10:30 p.m., witnesses said. Human Rights Watch observed repeated bursts of automatic fire, in addition to other gunfire, at around 11:40 p.m., near the intersection of Cairo University Road and Ahmed Zewail Street. An emergency intake doctor at Um al-Masriyeen hospital in Giza told Human Rights Watch that the majority of gunshot victims who arrived there were injured in the upper body. In cases in which the victims had been shot with live ammunition, the angle of the wound indicated that the shooting had come from above – the tops or upper stories of buildings, the doctor said.
Residents who opposed the pro-Morsy demonstration told Human Rights Watch that they phoned repeatedly for police assistance, but that security forces only arrived after midnight. Videos taken by local journalists that Human Rights Watch viewed show armored vehicles in the area at nighttime, but a resident interviewed in one of the videos said she was not aware of a stabilizing police presence until the following morning at 8 a.m. Residents said that Morsy supporters shot a police officer in the face. One Morsy supporter said he saw members of the Central Security Forces arrive and begin firing automatic weapons at around 11:30 p.m., killing a Morsy supporter.
A July 4 statement from the Interior Ministry said it had formed teams to investigate various events over recent days, arrest all suspects regardless of their affiliations or alignments, and enforce the law on all without discrimination.
On several occasions in the past, including the killing of 42 civilians in Port Said, Human Rights Watch has determined that police used greater lethal force than necessary to protect themselves or others from violence, killing civilians. Both the past excessive use of lethal force, and police failure to minimize casualties during the latest round of violence, indicate the continued and pressing need for security sector reform.
Under international human rights standards applicable to Egypt at all times, law enforcement officials need to take all reasonable steps to protect lives, especially when aware of specific threats. But they can only use intentional lethal force when strictly necessary to protect life.
“Accountability for serious crimes by all parties is key if the transitional government is serious about moving toward an inclusive and democratic Egypt,” Stork said. “Investigations into the awful events at Cairo University, in which Morsy supporters apparently were both attackers and victims, will be a crucial test.”