Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi run from Egyptian security forces firing towards them during clashes in Cairo’s Nasr City district, Egypt, Wednesday, August 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
CAIRO—In one of the bloodiest days in Egypt in decades, security forces attacked two sprawling sit-ins of supporters of the deposed president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, shooting dead scores of people and igniting a wave of violence across the country.
Hours after the raids began, Egypt’s military-backed interim president declared a month-long state of emergency, allowing security forces to detain civilians indefinitely and without charge, and imposed a nighttime curfew in Cairo and ten other governorates.
The health ministry said 235 people were killed across the country, although the death toll is expected to rise. The Muslim Brotherhood put the toll at over 2,000, calling the crackdown a “massacre.”
Among those killed were two journalists, Mick Deane, 61, a cameraman for Sky News, and Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, 26, a reporter for the Dubai-based newspaper Xpress. Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagi said his 17-year-old daughter, Asmaa, was also shot dead.
In a press conference, the interior minister said forty-three policemen were also killed.
The raids came despite weeks of international diplomacy aimed at resolving the political crisis and staving off further violence, and they have all but ended the possibility of a political process that could include the Muslim Brotherhood in the near future. Morsi’s supporters had been calling for his reinstatement as president and the reversal of what they call a “coup against legitimacy.”
Security officials said Beltagi and other senior Brotherhood figures, including Essam al-Erian, have been arrested. Morsi himself has been held in an undisclosed location since he was deposed by the military on July 3 following mass protests against his rule.
Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and vice president of international affairs in the interim cabinet who had vocally urged against a forcible dispersal of the sit-ins, submitted his resignation over the crackdown. “I cannot bear the responsibility for a single drop of blood,” he said in a statement. “What happened today is only in the interest of advocates of violence, terrorism and extremist groups.” ElBaradei was the most prominent figure to take part in the transitional government following Morsi’s ouster, and his resignation underscored the fact that the military is the real power now in Egypt.
Plans to forcibly disperse the two sit-ins had been previously announced, with the police stating that they would first provide a warning, then use gradually escalating tactics. The plans came in the wake of the interim cabinet authorizing the Interior Ministry to clear the encampments and amid shrill rhetoric in much of the media that often referred to the protesters as violent terrorists.
The raids began shortly after 6 am, according to witnesses, with security forces deploying bulldozers, helicopters, snipers, shotguns and tear gas. The smaller of the two sit-ins, at Renaissance Square in Giza, was cleared within hours. But the raid of the much larger encampment, at the Rabaa al-Adeweya mosque in Nasr City, a neighborhood in eastern Cairo, lasted far longer.