CAIRO – The Egyptian capital awoke to scenes of utter chaos early Wednesday
morning as security forces moved to disperse the Muslim Brotherhood’s protest
The first thing most residents near the Nahda sit-in knew of the
long-anticipated operation was the telltale drone of military helicopters
circling the encampment.
Soon thereafter, the police, supported by the
army, used armored bulldozers to barrel through the camp’s concrete block and
sandbag walls before firing tear gas.
Mohamed Morsi supporters, most of
whom belong to the deposed president’s Muslim Brotherhood, insist police snipers
fired at them from hovering helicopters.
“They were brutal. There were
bullets coming from all directions,” a camp organizer who identified himself as
By 8 a.m. the surrounding streets were full of ambulances
ferrying away the dead and wounded among both the protesters and
While Nahda was cleared by mid-morning, the security services
found the going much tougher at Rabaa, the larger camp on the other side of the
The military and interim government had been warned that any
attempt to storm the camps would likely lead to severe loss of life, and it
seems as if the worst fears of Egyptian liberals and foreign governments have
Fighting raged on throughout the day at Rabaa, with more than
a hundred people confirmed dead, including a number of policemen, a
Jerusalem-based British cameraman, and several other journalists.
Morsi supporters had made clear their willingness to die rather than vacate
their camps, and some of the ousted president’s supporters wrote their names on
their arms to make identification easier if they died.
Back across the
river, the police soon found themselves confronted with another
Thousands of Morsi supporters who had been evicted from Nahda set
about ripping up sidewalks, uprooting benches and bus shelters, and tearing off
scaffolding in order to block roads around a large roundabout in the upscale
Early police assaults were easily repulsed, and
the crowd gleefully gutted and burned a police truck that had been abandoned as
the security services fell back.
Senior Brotherhood officials insisted
that none of their supporters were armed, but a van laden with AK-47 assault
rifles began distributing weapons when the fighting intensified. As the police
regrouped, the Brotherhood’s casualty numbers soared.
At least 20
bloodied and barely conscious young men were propped up on the backs of
motorbikes and dispatched to a field hospital in a local mosque.
was thick with black smoke from burning tires, and acrid with tear gas, but it
was Egypt’s Christians, not the police, at whom many protesters directed their
“This is the Christians’ fault,” said Ahmed Sabry, as he sheltered
behind a kiosk.
Many Islamists have been furious at the gusto with which
many Coptic Christians appeared to have embraced the interim government, and
Wednesday saw a number of churches set alight across the country.
night fell, the police and army set about trying to pacify the city. All bridges
across the Nile were blocked, major thoroughfares closed and a nighttime curfew
Still, fighting raged on.
Cairenes have grown used to
disruption over the past few years, but many fear this might be the beginning of
particularly violent period in Egypt’s transition.
“This is just hell. I
don’t want a police state and I don’t want the Muslim Brotherhood, but now it
looks like we might have both at the same time,” said Mustafa Ali as he dashed
to the supermarket before 7 p.m. curfew.
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