Thursday’s papers: Pointing fingers and assigning blame over Abbasseya clashes

All of Egypt's daily papers focus on the bloody clashes which have been taking place in the Abbasseya neighborhood of Cairo — especially the violent clashes of Wednesday morning which left between 11 and 20 people dead. Figures regarding the number of dead and injured vary according to the source, yet it is suggested that tens have died while hundreds of others have been injured.

Presidential hopefuls and political parties have responded to, and in some cases capitalized upon, this bloodbath, with visitations to the protest site, donations to field hospitals, the temporary suspension of presidential campaigning, and boycotting meetings with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

State-owned Al-Ahram openly takes the side of the ruling military junta. “Army and police succeed in halting clashes between protesters and unidentified assailants” reads a top headline in this paper. Al-Ahram goes on to paint the military junta in the colors of neutral and valiant peace-keeping forces: “SCAF to hold a press conference today regarding these bloody events.”

The turmoil in Abbasseya began this week after protesters near the Defense Ministry reportedly came under attack from unknown assailants. These assailants, for the most part, are said to be residents and/or thugs from the neighborhood. Abbasseya residents have clashed with anti-regime protesters on a number of occasions last year, while Abbasseya Square has been the focal point for pro-Mubarak and pro-SCAF demonstrations.

Independent and opposition papers point their fingers at the SCAF, implying that the military junta is directly behind the attacks on protesters near the Defense Ministry. Other papers blame the Salafi protesters who began a sit-in outside the ministry nearly two weeks ago, demanding that the Presidential Elections Commission re-instate disqualified presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultra-conservative preacher.

The newly issued Al-Watan Newspaper, directed by Chief Editor Madgy al-Gallad (former editor-in-chief of the Arabic language Al-Masry Al-Youm) makes its pro-SCAF sentiments known. Al-Watan accuses the protesters in Abbasseya of being the source of violence in that neighborhood. Its top headline reads: “All this blood for the sake of the political throne.”

Another front-page headline in Al-Watan states, “Seven killed… Al-Azhar: Both the killers and the fatalities are in hell.” In addition to giving the lowest figure of fatalities in any paper, Al-Watan cites a statement issued by the primary institute of Islamic jurisprudence — Al-Azhar University — which claims that both those who killed and were killed in Abbasseya are condemned to damnation: “Muslims who take up swords against each other are condemned to hellfire — be they killers, or killed.”

The independent Al-Tahrir daily describes the armed clashes as being “a miniature civil war,” while the paper’s editor-in-chief, Ibrahim Eissa, writes a column entitled, “The two chief suspects in the Abbasseya Massacre are [Field Marshall Hussein] Tantawi and Abu Ismail.” Eissa claims that Abu Ismail and Tantawi have both mobilized their supporters to fight and kill each other for the sake of their personal and political gains.

In another piece, Al-Tahrir quotes the disqualified presidential hopeful as saying, “I did not call for the sit-in… And I suffer from a back-injury which prevents me from being able to move about.” The Salafi preacher has been ominously been out of the public eye since the sit-in began at Abbasseya, with throngs of his supporters demanding his re-instatement outside the Defense Ministry.

Al-Tahrir reports that Abu Ismail apparently has unkind words for his supporters, many of whom sacrificed their lives for his presidential nomination. A headline reads, “Disqualified candidate: I called on protesters to dismantle their occupation of Tahrir Square during a televised announcement.” An Abu Ismail spokesperson alleges that the barred candidate has received death threats, and therefore, for combined reasons of health and security concerns, the preacher has been unable to personally address his supporters in Abbasseya Square.

“Abu Ismail washes his hands from the Battle of Abbasseya” reads a header in the independent Al-Shorouk Newspaper.  The article mentions that the disqualified presidential contender has been bed-ridden since he underwent a surgical operation on his leg over a week ago. An Abu Ismail spokesperson is quoted as saying that the preacher “called the sit-in leaders via telephone asking them to call-off their protest in Abbasseya and return to Tahrir Square.” The spokesperson added that “the protesters in Abbasseya Square are not all Abu Ismail supporters, but include a variety of different political currents.”

Al-Shorouk describes the situation as “a new massacre prior to the presidential elections.” The paper reports that 11 were killed (from both sides) on Wednesday, while 300 others were injured. The independent paper also quotes the military junta’s deputy-chief, Sami Anan, as saying, “SCAF will hand over power to civilian authorities [on 24 May] if one of the presidential candidates wins an outright majority during the first stage of elections.”

However, a number of political parties have decided to boycott their periodic meetings with the military junta. The liberal opposition paper Al-Wafd states that 13 people were killed in Abbasseya on Wednesday. The paper runs stories under the headlines: “Massacre outside the Ministry of Defense” and “Wafd boycotts meeting with SCAF, and demands cabinet’s resignation.”

As for the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party and its self-entitled paper reports that the Brothers plan to stage “an angry million man march tomorrow in Tahrir Square” against the crimes committed in Abbasseya.

The FJP takes to political grand-standing, claiming that political parties, as well as the Brotherhood, hold the SCAF responsible for the violence in Abbasseya. This paper says that the military junta “must hand over power, and the Cabinet must resign.” Like a host of other nominees, Brotherhood/FJP presidential candidate Mohamed Morsy announced that he would temporarily suspend his campaign in protest against the SCAF’s culpability.

Following the bloodbath between civilians in Abbasseya, the FJP criticizes political parties who are still meeting with the SCAF. What the FJP fails to mention is that they and other Brotherhood representatives were meeting directly with the SCAF when uniformed police, armed forces, and military police were attacking, killing, and imprisoning protesters in and around Tahrir Square last year, especially in November and December 2011.

Egypt's papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Youm7: Daily, privately owned

Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned

Al-Watan: Daily, privately owned

Freedom and Justice: Daily, published by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Nasserist Party

Al-Nour: Official paper of the Salafi Nour Party

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