Morsi Supporters Face Government Crackdown In Egypt

In Egypt, the military-backed interim government is moving to end protests by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. This follows a weekend police attack in Cairo on those supporters — the deadliest since the political crisis began.

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

In Egypt, the military-backed interim government is moving quickly to end protests by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. This follows a weekend police attack in Cairo on those supporters, the deadliest since the political crisis began.

Egyptian officials also announced that soldiers could soon begin arresting civilians, and that security agencies used to crush dissidents during Hosni Mubarak era will resume their work.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. We go to her for the latest.

Soraya, are security forces actually getting in there and dispersing the pro-Morsi protestors?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: They're still holding back at this point. But what's clearly increasing in volume is the rhetoric. I mean, the language that's being used, the warnings that are being issued, these are very much suggesting that some sort of move could be imminent.

Military helicopters are also dropping leaflets on key protest sites, like this one, which captured in an online video this morning at the pro-Morsi camp's main sit-in on the outskirts of Cairo.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS SHOUTING AND CHANTING)

NELSON: The protestors are chanting leave, leave in Arabic, and they're pointing green laser pens at the helicopter - which does, in fact, leave.

WERTHEIMER: Soraya, why is the government so concerned about these protesters?

NELSON: Well, what they say publicly is that they don't want daily life disrupted. I mean, these sit-ins are blocking streets. There's some concern about violence within the sit-ins. And when they start moving towards military facilities or anti-Morsi demonstrations or rallies, which occur periodically, there's concern that there's going to be even more violence and bloodshed. I think it's also embarrassing to them, not just domestically, but internationally, that this has more of a flavor of a military coup. And so over the weekend, they really ratcheted up their rhetoric.

Presidential advisor Mostafa Hegazy, who met with NPR and several other reporters yesterday, described the main pro-Morsi protests in Cairo as quote, "terrorism-originating spots."

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MOSTAFA HEGAZY: We're trying as much as we can to exhaust all the efforts, to help do things in the proper, peaceful way, but the national security of Egypt is not to be threatened, not to be put at a stake, and we wouldn't accept this.

NELSON: The interior minister has issued similar warnings over the weekend, saying the police forces will act if the protestors persist in disrupting that daily Egyptian life.

And what's the response from the pro-Morsi camp?

Well, the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to leave the street, even after 72 of their people were killed in Cairo alone early Saturday morning. As spokesman Gehad El-Haddad tweeted this morning, it's a black-and-white issue for them: Either Egypt ends up with a military dictatorship, or democracy is restored, which in their eyes means putting Morsi back in power. But the government is taking some steps that are quite controversial in the eyes of other Egyptians to deal with what they see as intransigence. We have the president giving the prime minister the authority to allow the military to arrest civilians, and also reactivation of very much hated security agencies that were used to crush dissent under the Mubarak era.

WERTHEIMER: So what about the young people and the political groups who helped to topple Mubarak, and then Morsi? What are they saying about that decision by the government?

NELSON: Well, even the strongest supporters - like the Tamarod movement, which is largely credited with the ouster of Morsi - utterly rejects any return to sort of Mubarak-era tactics. Certainly, arrests by the military following Mubarak's ouster was also highly unpopular here. And so there's a lot of discontent and dissent, if you will, that's growing as a result of these actions this weekend.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, reporting from Cairo. Soraya, thank you very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Linda.

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