CAIRO (AP) — Questions and answers about Wednesday's violence in Cairo, in which at least 11 people were killed in clashes between suspected supporters of Egypt's military rulers and anti-government protesters three weeks before presidential elections.
Q: Who is in the streets?
A: The protesters who were attacked were mainly Islamists from the ultraconservative Salafi movement. They have been holding a sit-in for days near the Defense Ministry, protesting the disqualification of their candidate Hazem Abu Ismail from the presidential race by the military-appointed election commission.
Unlike the mass rallies last year by hundreds of thousands of all political stripes during the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, this protest rarely approached 1,000 people. Some other groups joined in solidarity against the military, but the rally's small size showed most activists' reluctance to ally themselves with the hard-line Islamist crowd.
Q: So why attack them?
A: The attackers' motive — and their identity — is unclear. Some claim residents of the neighborhood, Abbasiyah, lashed out in anger over the protest. But others believe they were hired thugs, noting their apparent experience with firearms. The fact that troops close by did nothing to stop the attacks for hours has raised accusations from some that the ruling military was ultimately to blame.
That has unleashed a storm of conspiracy theories. Some fear the generals are trying to create chaos as a pretext for delaying presidential elections set to begin May 23. Others think they are sending a signal to Islamists to back down in the Islamist-military confrontation that has been growing for weeks.
The military denies any hand in the latest violence and so far is saying elections will go on as scheduled, followed by the handover of power from the generals to the winner.
Q: What is the political backdrop to the tensions?
A: There are three front-runners among the 13 presidential candidates. They are Mubarak's former foreign minister Amr Moussa, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, and a moderate Islamist, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh.