(CNSNews.com) – A violent weekend in Cairo was capped by a deadly clash early Monday morning between security force members and supporters of the ousted president. The latest clash comes amid the ongoing debate over whether last week’s military action constituted a coup and should consequently trigger a suspension of U.S. aid.
Messages posted on Twitter by Muslim Brotherhood officials said that the “massacre” occurred when security forces stormed a sit-in while participants were holding dawn prayers, claiming that 37 of its supporters had been killed and scores more injured.
Muslim Brotherhood media spokesman Gehad El-Haddad tweeted that five children reportedly were among the dead, and that some of the protestors had sought shelter in a nearby mosque. The claims could not immediately be independently verified; the health ministry reported the number of dead at 15.
The violence happened outside the Republican Guard headquarters, where ousted President Mohammed Morsi is believed to be in custody. While the Muslim Brotherhood described the incident as a security force attack on a sit-in, state media said the army reported that a “terrorist group” had tried to storm the building.
Whatever proves to be the case, it could involve be the biggest loss of life in a single incident in clashes during the run-up to, and in the aftermath of, the ousting of Morsi last Wednesday.
Earlier, Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. Mohamed Tawfik insisted on the ABC’s “This Week” that Morsi’s removal from office was not a coup.
“Egypt has not undergone a military coup and it is certainly not run by the military,” said Tawfik, adding that “today there is an interim president in place.” The military installed Adly Mansour, a senior judge, as interim president last Thursday.
Tawfik, himself a Morsi appointee, said “the people of Egypt” had decided that the president had not acted on behalf of all Egyptians.
“You can’t be a democratically elected president and act that way. So now, we want new elections. We’re going to get new elections.”
U.S. law restricts the provision of non-humanitarian aid to a country whose military has removed a democratically-elected administration from office. $1.3 billion in annual military aid and millions of dollars more in budgetary and other assistance could be at stake.
The Obama administration has not use the word “coup” to describe last week’s events, and weekend statements focused on calls for calm. (Secretary of State John Kerry referred in a statement Saturday to “the current impasse.”)
On Sunday talk shows, several U.S. lawmakers discussed the crisis, although Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was alone in calls for the U.S. to suspend aid, “until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election.”
“It was a coup, and it was the second time in two-and-a-half years that we have seen the military step in,” he said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
“It is a strong indicator of a lack of American leadership and influence,” McCain added.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) accused the Muslim Brotherhood of “using the instruments of democracy to try to Islamicize” Egypt.
He said President Obama should “come to Congress and make the case” for ongoing military aid. Rogers added that there was “a great case to be made … that we should continue to support the military – the one stabilizing force in Egypt.”
‘Strategic issues at play’
On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) cautioned against suspending aid, calling the situation in Egypt unusual, “if not unique.”
“Will cutting off aid accelerate or enhance the opportunities and the chances to have a truly democratic government? I don’t think so,” he said. “I think, also, there are other strategic issues at play. One is the transit of the Suez Canal, a stable relationship between Egypt and the state of Israel, also ongoing counterterrorism activities.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), speaking on the same program, concurred.
“We need to look at our national interest. There will be plenty of time to assess the aid issue,” he said. “It seems to me that what we should be looking at is how the military and how the country itself handles this transition. We need to encourage that.”
Earlier, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, posted on his website provisions in fiscal year 2012 appropriations legislation relevant to military takeovers, and to Egypt in particular.
One provision says no appropriated funds “shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’etat or decree or, after the date of enactment of this Act, a coup d’etat or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.”
Elsewhere, the legislation conditions military aid to Egypt on the government meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty; and meeting human rights and democracy requirements, among them “supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections.”
The legislation provides for a national security waiver of the Egypt conditions. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waived them in March 2012, and Kerry last May invoked a waiver for FY2013 military aid to Egypt.
In other reactions to the continuing crisis in Egypt:
--Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday Egypt was on the verge of a civil war, voicing hope that the Arab world’s biggest country would avoid going the way of Syria.
--Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an influential Sunni scholar regarded as spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) saying the military’s ousting of Morsi was “un-Islamic” and urging all Egyptians to restore him to his post.
“Shari’a imposes on all believers allegiance to the elected president,” said Qaradawi, a Qatar-based Egyptian who is president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars.
--The African Union suspended Egypt, citing its policy on the interruption of constitutional rule by a member-state.