US warns Egypt's military after crackdown intensifies

Kerry says peaceful transition to civilian rule will be "much, much harder" to achieve after recent events.

Egyptian's protest Kerry visit 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptian's protest Kerry visit 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- After six weeks of posturing and threats, the Egyptian military followed through on its vow to clear demonstrators from its streets, executing a crackdown on Wednesday that killed at least 149 Egyptians and wounded hundreds.

Speaking from the State Department, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he called Egypt's foreign minister on Wednesday to condemn the military's actions."Today's events are deplorable," Kerry said. ""It's a serious blow to reconciliation." Kerry said that a peaceful transition to civilian rule, and an agreement between the army and a deposed and angry Muslim Brotherhood, would be "much, much harder" to achieve after today's events.The military holds the "preponderance of power" in the conflict, Kerry said, adding, ""I believe they know full well what a constructive process would look like." The government of Turkey called events in Egypt on Wednesday a "massacre" and urged action from the UN Security Council and Arab League to address the crisis."What is required in Egypt is a genuine transition to a genuine democracy," said UK Prime Minister David Cameron.Iran's foreign ministry called for a "democratic process" in Egypt, and warned that the current violence "strengthens the likelihood of civil war in this great Islamic country." In a statement from Martha's Vineyard, where President Barack Obama is on vacation, White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest "strongly condemned" the violence."We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint," Earnest said, adding that the Obama administration planned on holding the interim Egyptian government "accountable." Obama was briefed on the developments by national security advisor Susan Rice, he said.The US government has not called July's ousting of Mohammed Morsi a military coup. Doing so would require Congress to freeze its foreign aid to Egypt, and would compromise what little leverage the president has over Egypt's military. For the first time since the fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak over two years ago, the military announced a nationwide state of emergency. Egyptian vice president Mohamed El Baradei, the civilian face of the interim government, has resigned.In recent weeks, curfews in cities along the Suez Canal have neither been enforced nor obeyed."The state of emergency should end as soon as possible," Kerry said.Top Muslim Brotherhood politicians were also arrested as the crackdown occurred.The air was thick with tear gas as dozens of Egyptians laid together dead, wounded or cowering in the heart of Cairo. Snipers could be seen on rooftops surrounding the demonstrations, according to reports. Escaping the violence in the two Cairo camps, protestors once again marched on the city's 6th of October bridge.While casualties were concentrated in Cairo, at least ten were killed in Alexandria and fifteen in Ismailia. pro-Morsi supporters attacked Coptic churches across the country, fueled by belief that Egypt's Christian community had allied itself with plotting Egyptian brass.Protests against the violence broke out throughout the day in front of Egypt's embassies in Khartoum, Ankara and elsewhere.David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says that the death toll will likely rise as the army begins dispatching emergency security countrywide."At the most basic level, the military considers its fight with the Brotherhood to be existential, and they're willing to absorb a lot of censure to endure what they perceive to be a life and death struggle," Schenker said. "It's possible we're seeing the beginning of a deterioration similar to 1990s Egypt." Egypt experienced a spike in terrorist activity in the 1990s when an Islamist group, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, fought for the implementation of sharia law by targeting police, government officials, civilians and tourists.The Muslim Brotherhood accused the military of firing on civilians Wednesday and drew a line in the sand that they will not relent until Morsi is reinstalled as president. The interim government denied these claims and again promised a smooth transition to civilian rule.European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was following the situation in Egypt with great concern."Confrontation and violence is not the way forward to resolve key political issues. I deplore the loss of lives, injuries and destruction in Cairo and other places in Egypt. I call on the security forces to exercise utmost restraint and on all Egyptian citizens to avoid further provocations and escalation," she said in a statement.The office of the United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also put out a statement calling for restraint."While the UN is still gathering precise information about today's events, it appears that hundreds of people were killed or wounded in clashes between security forces and demonstrators," the statement read, condemning the violence "in the strongest terms." "While recognizing that political clocks do not run backwards," the statement continues, "the Secretary-General also believes firmly that violence and incitement from any side are not the answers to the challengesEgypt faces." Reuters contributed to this report.