Cairo Mosque Is A Protest Flashpoint

Egyptian security forces stormed a Cairo mosque and cleared it of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who had holed up for hours there on Saturday. Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin gets the latest from reporter Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. At least 800 people have been killed in Egypt since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi last month and the subsequent protests launched by his supporters. Yesterday, a Cairo mosque was the scene of a struggle between police and soldiers and Morsi supporters who had taken shelter there.

Also involved, hundreds of civilian vigilantes, intent on attacking the Morsi supporters. Sharif Abdel Kouddous is a reporter in Cairo. He joins us on the line now. Sharif, you spoke with Scott Simon in WEEKEND EDITION yesterday and at that point you described the scene at the mosque as chaotic, gunfire coming from inside and outside. What is the scene like now? Is every one gone?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The mosque has been cleared by security forces and the army. It appeared a calm has settled over C Square, which is a major central part of downtown Cairo. But there are marches that have called by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. And as we've seen in the last few days, it has been three days of carnage in which by some counts, over a thousand people have been killed. I think we may see more violence again today.

MARTIN: There were violent clashes at that mosque. Do we know if there were any deaths?

KOUDDOUS: It's very hard to determine if people were killed or if any were because human rights organizations and the official health ministry haven't released any statistics yet. Some footage showed the soldiers shooting the ceilings, trying to scare the people inside into coming out. They fired tear gas into barricaded room where people were besieged. As of now, we know of no deaths.

MARTIN: Can you tell us more about these civilian vigilantes who are outside the mosque yesterday? How are they, what is their relationships with the police and the army?

KOUDDOUS: It's hard to tell. Some of them appear to be colluding directly with the police and the army. The states in Egypt have historically (unintelligible) thugs to perform certain tasks, especially during the Mubarak era, cracking down on protesters and so forth. However, there's certainly an element of just citizens and regular residents of the area that are vehemently opposed to Morsi and his supporters; are taking to the streets, baying for blood, were attacking any of the people who were being brought outside by the military. And this is the manifestation of a very deep, political cleavage that has completely split apart in the last few days.

MARTIN: As we said, you have been covering this story closely. I wonder if you could tell us your thoughts on whether or not this is just another step in Egypt's very complicated transition to democracy or is the violence that we've been seeing over the past few days, is this something more troublesome.

KOUDDOUS: This is something much more troublesome. Both sides are vowing to escalate. So many people have been killed. Egyptians are witnessing scenes they never thought they could. Urban warfare with choppers hovering overhead, kicking up dust, citizens opening fire on each other, people jumping off bridges to avoid bullets, soldiers and police firing on mosques, Christian churches and monasteries being attacked across the country, and nuns being paraded in streets like prisoners of war.

I mean, these are scenes we never thought we would get to and it's very, very disconcerting and a lot of people are giving up hope.

MARTIN: Reporter Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He joined us from Cairo. Thank you so much for talking with us.

KOUDDOUS: Thank you for having me.

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