JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. In a moment, we'll talk about the week's news with LA Times columnist Doyle McManus. But first, in Egypt, protests against the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi turned deadly earlier today after Egyptian security forces launched the most violent crackdown yet on those demonstrators.
The Egyptian Health Ministry says that at least 80 people were killed over two days, most of them in Cairo. At the same time, the deposed president's party, the Muslim Brotherhood, put the death toll at nearly twice that number. Hundreds more were injured.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo that the crackdown may be part of the plan to seriously weaken, if not dismantle, the Brotherhood.
(SOUNDBITE OF AGITATED VOICES)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The scene was chaotic at the main morgue in Cairo, where ambulance workers and emotional relatives of those killed tried to carry their bodies inside. But the morgue was full, and many of the dead remained outside in the sweltering heat.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken in anguish)
NELSON: One elderly man whose son was among those killed tearfully prayed for help.
BASMA ZAHRAN: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Lawyer Basma Zahran, of the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, says it's the first time she's seen the morgue in this state. She adds, many of those killed appeared to have died from gunfire. That's something the Egyptian government denies. But as is often the case these days, each side tells a very different story of what happened.
The Interior Minister says police used tear gas to try and disperse pro-Morsi protesters who wanted to attack their opponents at a military-sponsored rally Friday night. The Muslim Brotherhood says what happened was an unprovoked massacre of Morsi supporters, approved by the military. Some analysts say unprovoked or not, the crackdown signals a disturbing shift in the military's approach to the Brotherhood, which has a large political base in Egypt. Shadi Hamid is the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.
SHADI HAMID: This is a new and very troubling escalation because even under the Mubarak regime, there was never a decision to destroy the Brotherhood.
NELSON: Hamid adds that the generals appear to want to get rid of the group, and end the debate over the forcible removal of Egypt's first democratically elected president.
HAMID: The military has decided that it can't afford to have hundreds of thousands of people camped out in different parts of Egypt for the foreseeable future. That's no way to run a country, in their view.
NELSON: Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim reinforced that notion at a news conference. He said police will come up with a plan to clear the streets after prosecutors complete an investigation into the pro-Morsi protests.
MOHAMED IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Ibrahim said he also reactivated much-hated security agencies that spy on Egyptians, and that were mothballed after Mubarak's ouster. He claimed the absence of these agencies is why Egypt is in turmoil now. But despite the prospect of further crackdowns, the Brotherhood made it clear that it won't go quietly.
AHMED AREF: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: The group's spokesman, Ahmed Aref, vowed that Morsi supporters will continue their protests, and seek justice for their dead comrades.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.