CAIRO — The family of Egypt’s ousted president lashed out at the military on Monday, accusing the generals of kidnapping Mohammed Morsi, who has been detained incommunicado in an unknown location for nearly three weeks.
The statement by Morsi’s family at a Cairo press conference underlined the unknown fate of Egypt’s first freely elected president. Morsi has not been seen and has had no known contact with lawyers, family or supporters since the military ousted him on July 3 after mass protests nationwide demanding his removal.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has been leading daily protests demanding Morsi be re-instated. On Monday, clashes broke out between Morsi supporter and opponents near Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in the city of Qalioub on the capital’s outskirts, where at least one person was shot to death, security officials said.
Since his ouster, the Islamist leader has become a tool for both sides. The new military-backed government has used Morsi to put pressure on his Muslim Brotherhood, launching criminal investigations without actually bringing charges against him. Government officials have said only that he is safe, is well cared for and is being held for his own protection.
The Brotherhood, in turn, has sought to drum up sympathy by saying Morsi’s detention shows the military’s coup is taking the country into dictatorship, as it tries to expand street protests demanding he be reinstated as president.
European Union foreign ministers on Monday called for the release of Morsi and “all political detainees,” saying it was among their key priorities for Egypt’s new leadership. The United States has also urged Morsi’s release. Along with Morsi, at least five other senior Brotherhood figures are in detention.
At Monday’s press conference, Morsi’s daughter Shaimaa read out a statement by the family, saying, “We hold the leaders of the bloody military coup fully responsible for the safety and security of the president.”
One of Morsi’s sons, Osama, described his father’s detention as the “embodiment of the abduction of popular will and a whole nation,” and said the family will “take all legal actions” to end his detention.
“What happened is a crime of kidnapping,” said Osama, who is a lawyer. “I can’t find any legal means to have access to him.”
He said that the family met with Morsi for the last time on July 3, shortly before military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi announced the president’s ouster. Since then, they have had no contact with him. The son warned el-Sissi “and his coup leaders against harming the life, health or safety of the legitimate president, our father.”
Speaking at the same news conference, the secretary-general of the doctor’s syndicate, Gamal Abdel-Salam, said the union has asked the military to grant doctors access to Morsi to check his health. He said the deposed president suffers from diabetes and liver problems.
Morsi’s son, however, denied that his father has health problems.
The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, and his Islamist allies have held near daily street protests in Cairo and across the country. They have rejected any dealings with the interim president and Cabinet, saying Morsi must be brought back to office before they will discuss any reconciliation.
Egypt’s prosecutors have said they are investigating allegations that Morsi and Brotherhood officials conspired with the Palestinian militant group Hamas to carry out a 2011 attack on prisons that broke Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders out of jail during the 18-day uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak. However, prosecutors have not formally ordered Morsi detained for investigation — meaning his detention effectively remains outside the legal system.
However, also there also seemed to be a media campaign aimed at further depicting Morsi as turning to outside powers. On Monday, the state-run Al-Ahram daily splashed on its front page claims of a new investigation against Morsi, though the prosecutors’ office and the military quickly denied its report.
The report claimed investigators were examining whether Morsi asked the United States to intervene militarily in Egypt and asked Hamas to “spark violence” in the Sinai to rescue his rule in the final hours before el-Sissi removed him. The paper claimed the military had recordings of the conversations.
The prosecutor-general’s spokesman, Ahmed el-Rakeeb, said the report was not true and that Al-Ahram’s chief editor Abdel-Nasser Salama was summoned for questioning over it, the state news agency MENA said. Military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali in a statement accused the paper of “aiming to cause confusion and provoke public opinion.”
The US Embassy in Cairo also issued a statement denying the paper report and described it as “totally fabricated and completely untrue.”
The United States has been caught in Egypt’s political turmoil, as rival parties accuse it to meddling in the country’s affairs.
On Monday, a senior Brotherhood figure escalated the group’s campaign against the United States, calling on protesters to “besiege” the embassy and expel the ambassador.
Essam el-Erian, deputy head of the Brotherhood’s political party said Monday, “the American role in the coup is very clear and no one can hide.”
“I call upon all the masses of the Egyptian people … to besiege the embassies until they leave,” he said at a meeting of some 100 other Islamist former lawmakers from the now-disbanded upper house of parliament, which under Morsi was the only legislative body.
Hours after, several hundred Morsi supporters tried to march toward the U.S. Embassy, passing near Tahrir Square, where Morsi opponents have been camped out. Rock-throwing clashes erupted between the two sides, and gunshots were heard, though it was not clear who opened fire. Security forces blocked the road with an armored vehicle and fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the pro-Morsi march.
At the same time, clashes erupted in Qalioub, north of Cairo, when pro-Morsi protesters blocked a highway between the capital and the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria, security officials said. Security forces demanded they clear the way, and protesters fired ammunition in the air. Clashes erupted with protesters throwing stones and security forces firing tear gas.
At least one person was shot and killed and four others were wounded, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
Thousands rallied in downtown Cairo, marching to the Defense Ministry to protest the killings of Morsi’s supporters during earlier rallies. Others clashed in overnight street battles with anti-Morsi protesters in vital Suez city leaving more than 100 injured. Security officials said that military beefed up security alongside the Suez Canal corridor, with special forces, snipers and armored vehicles.