Talk Of Civil War Amid Continuing Unrest In Egypt

With no end in sight to Egypt's festering political crisis, the nation seems more polarized then it's ever been. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood is accusing its opponents of resorting to violence in order to oust President Mohammed Morsi. The umbrella opposition group, the NSF, accuses the Brotherhood of pushing the country toward the brink of civil war. Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the opposition says he is scared that Egypt may not survive this.

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Over the weekend, Egypt witnessed the worst religious strife between Muslims and Christians since Islamist President Mohammed Morsi came to power. The violence included a mob attack on the main Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo. And it reflects a larger problem: a state that is barely functioning, a nation more polarized than it's ever been and no end in sight to a political crisis. Here's NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Outside St. Mark's Coptic Cathedral this morning, street cleaners swept away the debris and broken glass, evidence of the violence yesterday that left two people dead and more than 90 injured as a mob of Muslims laid siege to a cathedral where Christians were mourning their dead, killed in religious-based violence the day before.

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FADEL: The two sides traded Molotov cocktails and rocks, and Egyptians watched it all with horror on live TV.

MAGDI NAZIR HENEIN: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Magdi Nazir Henein, a Christian, stood nearby the locked cathedral this morning.

HENEIN: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: The country is full of beggars, criminals and thugs, he says, but who do we turn to for help? Who do we ask in the government? It is a question on the mind of so many Egyptians now, as the political elite fight over who is to blame for the deepening security vacuum, an impending economic collapse and growing violence in Egypt.

AMR MOUSSA: You feel that the state is not around, so everybody does whatever he wants to do. If you add this bad administration of government to the economic difficulties, to the lack of security, to the feeling, the psychology of the country that there is something wrong in the country, you will see how Egypt is in real tension.

That's Amr Moussa, the former Arab League Chief and a leading member of the umbrella opposition group known as the National Salvation Front. What binds this group of liberals, socialists, Nasserites and so on is really just one thing: an anger towards the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

FADEL: The group accuses the Brotherhood of trying to dominate all state institutions and using the general prosecutor to exact revenge on its critics. Many members of the salvation front are being investigated for allegedly instigating violence during protests outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters last month. Khaled Dawoud is a spokesman for the National Salvation Front.

KHALED DAWOUD: We issued several statements condemning the use of violence. We do not believe that violence would produce except more violence. But we also see a lot of violence being used from the Muslim Brotherhood side.

FADEL: Dawoud says Egypt is moving towards a new dictatorship with an Islamist slant.

DAWOUD: You know, they don't want to recognize that their policies are unpopular, that they are pushing the country towards civil war.

FADEL: The Brotherhood counters that, saying it is the opposition that is stirring the unrest to make up for its losses in post-revolutionary elections that brought the Islamists to power. Mahmoud Ghozlan is a senior leader in the Muslim Brotherhood.

DR. MAHMOUD GHOZLAN: (Through translator) They felt that democracy represents a threat against them because the people didn't choose them. They chose the Islamists, so they are turning to violence.

FADEL: Ghozlan refuses to acknowledge any blame for the violence. It all comes from opponents of the president, Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, he says.

GHOZLAN: (Through translator) I tell you right now, there are many enemies of the revolution, of the Islamist project and of the Muslim Brotherhood.

FADEL: And this, observers say, is the crux of the problem. There is no trust between the opposition and the Brotherhood, and each side accuses the other of derailing Egypt's fledgling democracy. Meanwhile, most Egyptians are stuck in the middle. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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