Egypt Is Under A State Of Emergency

It was perhaps the bloodiest day in Egypt since the uprising in 2011. Security forces on Wednesday launched a major operation to clear supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi from two sit-in camps in Cairo but the violence quickly spread to other parts of the city.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's go to Egypt now to hear more about this day after the outbreak of violence. NPR's Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel sent us this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: As dawn broke in the capital, the streets were eerily quiet, a curfew still in place. The first cars ventured out into the streets just after 6 A.M., following the single-bloodiest day in Egypt since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak almost three years ago. The main sit-ins of pro-Morsi protesters in the capital are gone. They were mostly Islamists who'd been camped out for weeks, calling for Morsi's reinstatement. In their place are burned-out tents, debris and spent bullet casings.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

FADEL: The field hospital and mosque at the main sit-in in eastern Cairo is now burned-out. The protesters are gone, and just outside, garbage men clear the rubble. Yesterday seemed to strip away the pretense of reconciliation, and the military now has control. This same area, just yesterday, was under siege.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

FADEL: Men carried a wounded man on a stretcher. Get out of the way, they yelled. In just one room in the medical center, I counted 37 bodies. There are more in the morgue downstairs, more in the mosque next door. The floor is covered in blood. One body is charred. Another is a woman, shot in the head, her corpse wrapped in a blanket. Every few minutes, a new person wounded is ushered in. Sometimes they are already dead.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

FADEL: Outside, the gunfire intensified. People who were trying to leave waited for their escape. We take our chance and run through an alley to get to safety. Sniper fire whizzed by. A man fell in front of us, shot in the head, injured. Later, another man yelled from his car.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We will continue our revolution, for die forever for our freedom.

FADEL: By nightfall on Wednesday, many more were dead. The sit-ins were gone. The state declared a state of emergency with a night-time curfew for a month, and the Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei resigned. He wrote in his resignation letter: I cannot bear responsibility for a single drop of blood. I believe that the bloodshed could have been avoided. Military supporters quickly labeled the Nobel laureate a traitor and an American agent.

Now there is very little space for people to criticize and speak about rule of law, says Heba Morayef, the Egypt director for Human Rights Watch.

HEBA MORAYEF: The main problem is - and, in a sense, this is illustrated by Baradei's resignation today - is that the security agencies, the hawks and the hardliners, have won the battle about how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood.

FADEL: The reigning discourse now is that Brotherhood members are terrorists who don't deserve rights.

MORAYEF: I think this pretty much breaks politics in Egypt. I can't imagine a genuine political process in Egypt moving forward, unless it includes Islamist political parties. And after today, I can't imagine inclusion happening.

FADEL: She says there is a general break down of rule of law. As Muslim Brotherhood supporters suffered at the hands of security forces, in other parts of the country, Christians came under immediate attack. Many Morsi supporters have been scapegoating the Christians for the coup. About two dozen churches were attacked, and Morayef says that's unprecedented.

MORAYEF: And I'm not sure that the state is ready to deal with that. In fact, we know that they're not ready, because otherwise, all of these churches wouldn't have been attacked, had the police been there to protect them.

FADEL: And with scenes of carnage in the streets of Cairo and beyond on Wednesday, there's been an international outcry over the security crackdown. And the State Department says it, quote, "Condemns the use of violence against protesters." The European envoy Bernardino Leon, who was involved in mediation efforts, was quoted by Reuters saying: "The Muslim Brotherhood had been ready to make a deal." So Egyptian government officials took to the airwaves on Wednesday night to defend the decision.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)

PRIME MINISTER HAZEM EL-BEBLAWI: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: The Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi called it a necessary action, and praised security forces for restraint - restraint reporters saw little of in the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MOHAMMED IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: We will never allow another sit-in in this republic, the Minister of Interior Mohammed Ibrahim said in a press conference. The Brotherhood is to blame for the violence. They attacked police stations. Hundreds are detained, he says.

The lines have hardened in Egypt. The official policy now is to stop all gatherings of Morsi supporters. But Brotherhood leaders vow to continue to protest. It's difficult to see a path out of this crisis, at least not without more people dying.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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