CAIRO – “Was Wednesday the day the Arab Spring died?” many Egyptians are asking
So awful were the clashes the day before and so catastrophic
the potential consequences that for many, anger has given way to fear for the
country’s uncertain future.
The death toll has already topped 500, and
with a series of Muslim Brotherhood marches and funerals for Wednesday’s victims
planned, the situation has the potential to deteriorate yet
Dozens of churches, at least 20 police stations and several
judicial buildings have already been targeted by vengeful Morsi supporters, who
have stepped up their campaign against the security services and the Christian
minority they hold partially accountable for Mohamed Morsi’s
Cairo’s churches have largely been spared thus far, but
parishioners at St. George’s Church in the sleepy Agouza district are clearly
taking no chances.
All services have been canceled, the gate through the
formidablelooking walls barred, and the police detachment, often seen slumped
sleeping through the afternoon heat in the past, looks primed and
Elsewhere in an eerily quiet Cairo, life seems to be slowly
returning to normal. Municipal workers armed with forklifts and massive dump
trucks to dispose of the mountains of debris set about trying to restore the
scene at the former Nahda Square protest camp.
But the blackened and
scorched earth, 15-meter-high palm trees burnt to their leaves and brick
structures reduced to rubble tell the tale of the ferocity of the security
services’ assault. At least 80 people are said to have died there, and the
enormous space remains strewn with clothes, and in one case, children’s shoes,
abandoned by fleeing camp residents.
Just down the road, at the local
courthouse, a small group of liberal activists set off flares and demonstrated
loudly against the violence of the military and interim government’s
A passing taxi driver voiced his support for their protest,
saying: “What the police did will only make things worse. They [Morsi
supporters] will be back with a bigger demonstration tomorrow.”
be right. In July, the Muslim Brotherhood was reeling after its struggles in
government, but two massacres of its supporters rekindled its standing amongst
many Islamists, who are terrified that a police state might bring renewed
The effects of Wednesday’s carnage might be graver
Violence across Cairo pitted the military against the Muslim
Brotherhood and nationalist against Islamist. This reporter saw one neighbor
throwing stones at the police from the Brotherhood lines, and another running
behind the advancing police trucks dismantling his opponents’ hastily knocked-up
A number of “local committees” – neighborhood watches, have
already re-formed for the first time since the 2011 revolution against Hosni
Mubarak. They searched passing cars and devoted particular attention to
questioning bearded men.
For many Cairenes, recent events carry
unfortunate shades of former president Mubarak’s Egypt.
The state of
emergency gives authorities expansive powers to arrest and detain without
charge, while Morsi supporters’ attacks on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the
country’s most significant modern cultural landmark, other civic institutions
and state buildings remind some Egyptians of the devastating insurgency
Islamists waged against the government in the 1990s.
In Tahrir Square,
the epicenter of the massive demonstrations that unseated Mubarak, few dare hope
for a successful resolution to the past month’s mayhem.
“I’m too sad to
think about the future,” student Muhammed Fawzy said. “I just try and pretend
that everything is normal.”