Cairenes deal with aftermath of lethal clashes

The Egyptians are angry, afraid of what is still to come.

August 16, 2013 07:05
2 minute read.
A MAN reacts after seeing the corpse of his brother, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, al-Imam mosque

egyptian man cries 370. (photo credit: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)


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CAIRO – “Was Wednesday the day the Arab Spring died?” many Egyptians are asking themselves.

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.

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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 further.

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 overthrow.

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 wary.

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 crackdown.

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.”

He might 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 persecution.

The effects of Wednesday’s carnage might be graver still.

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 road blocks.

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.”

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