The Egyptian military promised to put an end to the encampments of Mohamed Morsi supporters in Cairo, and they acted on it today — with bloody results. Depending on which side one hears, the deaths range from seven (the military reports) to, er, 2000 (pro-Morsi claim). NBC News puts the number at 15 and rising, and not all of those came from one side:
Security forces began to clear two sit-in camps for supporters of the Egypt’s ousted president on Wednesday, sparking large-scale violent clashes that killed at least 15 people.
Bodies, some of them badly burned, were recovered as tear gas and gunfire engulfed protest camps at Rabaa and Nahda in the Egyptian capital.
About 200 people were arrested, the country’s interior ministry said.
Supporters of President Mohammed Morsi were seen throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at troops, Reuters reported. Security sources said five police officers were killed and 12 injured during the operation.
The Washington Post shows the wide disparity in claims:
A senior Health Ministry official, Ahmed el-Ansari, said a total of nine people were killed and 50 injured at the two sites. But the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which backs the ousted president, claimed that more than 2,000 people died. The party initially said 500 protesters were killed and about 9,000 wounded in the raids.
The numbers could not immediately be confirmed. Witnesses said they saw at least 42 bodies of demonstrators in a field hospital at the site of one of the sit-ins.
Nor are those the only battles going on in the streets of Cairo:
The assault came after days of warnings by the military-backed interim administration that replaced President Mohammed Morsi after he was ousted in a July 3 coup. The two sit-in camps at two major intersections on opposite sides of the Egyptian capital began in late June to show support for Morsi. Aftre the coup, protesters there have demanded his reinstatement.
Clashes also broke out elsewhere in Cairo and other provinces across the country, with police stations, government buildings and churches attacked or set ablaze.
The Egyptian Central Bank instructed commercial banks to close branches in areas affected by the chaos, a sign of alarm that the violence could spiral out of control. The Ministry of Antiquities also ordered the site of the Giza Pyramids closed to visitors along with the Egyptian museum in the heart of the Egyptian capital. The closures were a precaution effective only for Wednesday, it said.
CNN describes the capital as “a war zone”:
Thick plumes of black smoke were rising through the air from where it was understood security forces had entered the area and pro-Morsy supporters were facing off against those forces, he said.
Protesters were breaking bricks and gunfire could be heard, while tear gas was filling the air.
“Up above there are military helicopters and this is just an all-out fight and I think this is what a lot of people were concerned about — this kind of violent scene,” he said.
This could have significant diplomatic consequences. According to Reuters, Turkey’s prime minister has demanded action from both the United Nations and the Arab League:
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan calls on UN Security Council, Arab League to act to stop Egypt 'massacre' – statement via @Reuters
— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) August 14, 2013
This will be an embarrassment for the US and the West, which have tried to push the military-imposed government toward reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, although it’s pretty clear that the Brotherhood and other Islamists didn’t want reconciliation. They wanted a return of Morsi to power, full stop, with no other negotiations possible until the military capitulated. It’s clear the military won’t back down now, which means that either the Islamists have to figure out a way to work with them, or Egypt will break into civil war. It’s possible that this rout in the streets will give the Muslim Brotherhood second thoughts about its defiance, but don’t put money on that outcome.
Update: This was inevitable:
Supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi torched three churches in central Egypt on Wednesday in reprisal attacks as police dispersed demonstrations in Cairo, reports said.
The assailants threw firebombs at Mar Gergiss church in Sohag, a city with a large community of Coptic Christians who comprise up to 10 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people, causing it to burn down, the official MENA news agency said.
Security officials told AFP that another two churches were attacked in El-Menia province, leaving them partially damaged by fire.
Coptic rights group the Maspero Youth Union reported the same information, accusing Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement of “waging a war of retaliation” against the country’s Christians.
Islamists had blamed the Copts all along for the fall of Morsi, so this is not unexpected — but it’s still another example of the brutality and irrationality of the Islamists in Egypt.
Update: The health ministry now says 56 people were killed. AFP reports that the death toll has risen to 124:
#BREAKING 124 dead in security crackdown on pro-Morsi protests: AFP
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) August 14, 2013
I’ve seen some pictures of the corpses on Twitter, and I’d bet that AFP’s number is closer to reality.