UPDATE: The following report is an update from Reuters, which has been covering the situation in Cairo, Egypt. The White House condemned the military for using violence against the Muslim Brotherhood yesterday in the statement above. They commented today on the pressure it has been receiving from all sides of the spectrum, and said that the criticism “wasn’t helpful” in securing the freedom the Egyptian people deserve. President Obama said that U.S.-Egypt relations could not continue as it has in wake of the events yesterday.
The bodies of close to 250 people killed in Egypt’s political violence are being held at a mosque in northeast Cairo, witnesses said, indicating the death toll may be higher than the official countrywide total of . A Reuters reporter counted 228 bodies, though an exact count was difficult because some were being moved and loaded into coffins for removal from the Imam mosque. Medics at the scene said the bodies had been moved straight from a nearby protest camp broken up by the police on Wednesday to the mosque, said Heba Morayef, Egypt director at Human Rights Watch, adding that she had counted 235 bodies.
Nearly 4,000 were hurt in the violence yesterday, leading President Obama to cancel joint military exercises. He added that the Egyptian people will have to solve their own problems, but called on Egyptians to peacefully reconcile their differences.
Meanwhile, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) said in a statement that, “the law is very clear when a military coup d’etat takes place. The foreign aid must stop regardless of the circumstances.” The White House said they have a desire to maintain the longstanding military cooperation, and that they will be “monitoring” the situation closely, as usual.
AUGUST 14, 2013: I have never seen such an incoherent foreign policy from any White House in recent memory. The White House released the above statement condemning the violence in Egypt today, from which over 300 people have been killed, mostly in Cairo. Senator Rand Paul R-Ky, after today’s events, is now not looking so terribly naive.
At first light around 5:25 AM local time, supporters of the ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said the security forces had begun operations to clear their two huge sit-ins in Cairo. The BBC’s James Reynolds had seen an armoured bulldozer heading towards barricades protecting one of the protest camps outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, in the north-east of the capital. He said he could hear bursts of gunfire, a nearby side street has been blocked off, and plumes of black smoke can be seen in the distance. Tonight, the mosque is in flames, just rubble was left after the Egyptian military moved in unannounced.
The Interior Ministry, the military, and interim government had promised to peacefully disperse the camps, raising the idea of cutting off their electricity and water to force protesters to go home. It became clear, however, they had decided to take a less subtle approach: Armored cars, police officers, and soldiers marched on the protests in Nasr City and Giza, opening fire with birdshot, tear gas, and live ammunition.
“They didn’t give us a chance. They struck us down like animals, I’ve never seen it like this,” said Ahmed Azazy, a 44-year-old businessman from Banha, who was taking a rest from the front line of the clashes by the main encampment. “I can’t tell you the amount of people who died in front of me. Go to the field hospital, see how many bodies there are.”
The Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, which sits at the center of the Nasr City sit-in, became a field morgue as the casualties from the violence mounted, eyewitnesses told Foreign Policy. The ground was covered in blood, protesters reported, and medics were being forced to lay the bodies on the floor. Most were shot dead, they said. One man reportedly burned to death after his tent was set on fire by the authorities.
Hours into the violence, literally hundreds of Morsi supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood still held their ground, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails over what was being used as a barricade but really was just pavement stones. Women and children caught in the violence remained huddled behind sandbags and concrete walls in a southern corner of the Nasr City sit-in. The gunfire, which seemingly was coming from all directions rained down from above and zipped past at street level. The Brotherhood claimed they had literally seen snipers shooting down on the encampment from the overlooking buildings. Black columns of smoke billowed out from the impenetrable plumes of tear gas, obviously making it difficult for all around to breathe.
“Killers, they’re killers, they slaughtered us like sheep,” shouted one protester on his way back from the frontline, a Quran tied around his neck and a cheap plastic gas mask on his head.
Among the fighters beginning to tire, one man took a break from the fighting and started a chant to boost morale. “We are ready to give our blood and our soul for Islam,” he shouted, and hundreds more joined in. They started to climb the sandbags in an effort to taunt the security forces, who promptly responded with gunfire.
On the side streets of the residential area, security forces reportedly shot at literally anyone attempting to access the so-called sit-in. Residents, journalists, and families of those trapped inside ran from car to car, taking cover from the hail of gunfire. The Egyptian authorities had promised them a safe exit — but all entrances were barricaded in by the security forces or blocked by street battles.
“My son, he’s just 21 years old, he went to help when he heard the gunfire. He cannot get out, we cannot get in, what do we do?” said Mona Salama, 40, a doctor who lives nearby. “There are snipers on the buildings who shot at us as we tried to get in. It’s not safe.”
Eyewitnesses later reported that the security forces raided the medical center, forcing “sit-in” participants and medics to leave the dead behind. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood released a statement accusing the police of stealing the bodies to cover up the size of the massacre.
The violence was definitely not restricted to the capital. In Upper Egypt, pro-Morsy supporters attacked local government offices, setting fire to a courthouse in the city of Beni Suef. Outside of the city, there were some 41 people were killed in the province of Minya, according to Health Ministry officials, as street battles with security forces in the area continued into the evening.
Even though the mainstream media will likely continue to ignore it, in truth, it was not just Morsy supporters who were under attack: By midday, the pro-Morsi violence had morphed into sectarian violence. The main Coptic Christian church in Sohag and in Minya was set on fire by Islamist protesters according to local media reports. In the Nile Delta’s governorate of Gharbia, citizens formed human chains around one church in a bid to protect it from an impending assault.
To underscore just how intolerant the groups that some are still calling protests, pictures have been released of the Muslim Brotherhood pro-Morsi supporters smashing Coptic Christian church items, such as the cross below.
The Egyptian government quickly attempted to restore law and order, reportedly by any and all means necessary. Interim President Adly Mansour’s office announced that a curfew would be put in place from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m., and that a month-long state of emergency would be implemented indefinitely. Mansour also called on the military to support the Ministry of Interior and its police force.
Mansour’s administration, although attempting to assert control, was showing credible signs of strain. Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, the West’s so-called liberal moderate bureaucrat who had been pushing for reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, through in the towel and handed in his resignation in a statement that condemned the breakup of the sit-ins.
Many political forces remain sympathetic to the government defended the crackdown. Egypt’s main coalition of non-Islamist forces, the National Salvation Front (NSF), defended the actions of the security forces in a statement, calling the day “a victory against all political forces trafficking in the name of religion.” Khaled Daoud, a leading member of the NSF, told Al Jazeera that the Muslim Brotherhood bears “full responsibility” for what happened, as their encampments were not peaceful.
The destruction of the pro-Morsy protesters’ sit-ins, however, clearly has not succeeded in defeating the opposition’s resolve to keep up the resistance to the military government. Even 12 hours of bullets and tear gas later, they were still already preparing for the next round of fighting, which we will most likely see after the curfew is lifted.
At the back of the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, where protesters were still battling with lines of police, protesters remained determined to keep the demonstrations going.
“Whatever the police do, we will get Morsy back, he will remain our president,” said Ahmed Alam, a 28-year-old engineer readying himself to go back into the fight. “They have to kill 80 million of us to get the power they so desperately want.”
The Obama administration has been strongly condemned by the liberal forces who see them as favorable to the Morsi supporters and Muslim Brotherhood in general. The so-called “Arab Spring” was hijacked by radical Islamists after President Obama decided to back the movement and legitimize the regime by inviting them to the White House for talks. Even though the administration called the now-ousted regime’s reforms a step in the right direction, a Pew study conducted before the turmoil came to a very different conclusion. Egyptians expressed uncertainty regarding the future, the economy, and whether or not they were even better off under Hosni Mubarak.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but it certainly is not true that these events came out of nowhere, and now the Obama administration is in a precarious situation, indeed. In what was clearly a military coup, the Egyptian military ousted Morsi in early July when Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said the country’s constitution had been temporarily suspended, because Morsi had failed to meet the demands of Egypt’s people. On July 8, at least 51 people had been killed when Morsi supporters, enraged by the military overthrow of Egypt’s supposedly elected Islamist president, said the army opened fire during morning prayers outside the Cairo barracks where Mohamed Morsi is believed held. However, the military said “a terrorist group” tried to storm the Republican Guard compound and one army officer had been killed and 40 wounded. Soldiers returned fire when they were attacked by armed assailants, according to a military source for Reuters.
A month-long state of national emergency has been issued, and a brief video recap of the day’s events can be viewed below.