One of the blackest days in Egypt’s history unfolded on Wednesday as Egyptian security forces raided Muslim Brotherhood protest sites in Cairo with sniper fire, live ammunition, tear gas and bulldozers, according to reports. In the ensuing mayhem, hundreds, or possibly thousands, of people were killed, leading Egyptian President Adly Mansour to declare a month-long state of emergency, all the Arab media outlets report.
Interestingly, the only Arab news source to leave out explicit details of the military crackdown was in Egypt itself. The Cairo-based Al-Masry Al-Youm makes no mention whatsoever of the explicit chaos. The paper runs articles only about subsequent reprisals carried out by Muslim Brotherhood activists against Egyptian security forces.
On the other side of the spectrum the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat leads off with the headline, “Egypt ends the Rabaa sit-in,” a reference to the Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, where thousands of supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi have been encamped since the Muslim Brotherhood’s overthrow from power.
The Egyptian government justified its decision to raid the square by stressing that Muslim Brotherhood loyalists were stockpiling weapons and ammunition there. Early reports suggest that the Egyptian military’s assessment was extremely inaccurate. Thus far, government security forces have recovered only six automatic rifles and individual cartridges, 189 rounds of ammunition, and 200 Molotov cocktails. But that does not mean government officials are becoming any more apologetic.
“I was surprised by the number of demonstrators firing bullets towards the police officers, which insisted on the adoption of the utmost restraint,” Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim claimed at a press conference.
While bodies are still being accounted for, over 278 people have been confirmed killed in Wednesday’s mayhem, including three journalists. The Muslim Brotherhood claims over 2,000 of its loyalists were massacred.
When information regarding the military’s escalation got out to the public, Muslim Brotherhood supporters too went on the attack. The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports that 43 police officers were killed by Brotherhood supporters seeking revenge around the country, with another 211 injured and 55 in critical condition.
At least seven Coptic churches have also been ransacked by angry Islamists. Coptic leaders say the number of churches destroyed is much higher than official estimates.
“The security and order in the territory of the Egyptian republic are at risk due to acts of deliberate sabotage on public and private enterprises. A significant loss of life has been caused by members of extremist organizations groups and organizations,” Egyptian President Adly Mansour said as he declared martial law for the next month.
Mansour’s decision effectively returns Egypt to the Mubarak era when martial law was imposed for three decades. For the next month, a mandatory curfew in all Egyptian cities will be enforced from six in the evening until seven in the morning. In the meantime, all train activity has been indefinitely canceled.
At least one high-profile government official has conceded that the security forces’ actions were so repugnant that he cannot imagine staying in office. Egyptian vice president and former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammed ElBaradei officially resigned from his post.
“It is too difficult for me to continue to carry responsibility over decisions that I do not agree with,” ElBaradei stated in his resignation letter. His decision has generated criticism from political activists who accuse him of treason and of trying to evade responsibility.
A leading op-ed in the Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera by Abdullah Al-Baridi warns of the “Lebanonization” of Egypt.
“I don’t mean that Egypt will become like Lebanon due to internal fighting,” writes Al-Baridi. “What I mean is that Egypt, like Lebanon, is being used as a playground by politicians who purport to play, gamble, and continuously mess up their country’s future. All of this is a tragedy not only for Egypt, but for the entire Arab world.”
Other pundits disagree. Mamoun Fandy, the president of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, told the Dubai-based media network Al-Arabiya that the Egyptian military did what was necessary to rid the country of internal strife.
“While today it looks bad, tomorrow the army will be vindicated,” Fandy said. “Today what happened was a great achievement for the security forces. What happened yesterday only proves that the Brotherhood extremist group rejects any and all solutions to meet in the middle with the current government. The army made it clear that it is responsible for protecting the homeland. Now, the roadmap for stability can be moved forward.”