Egyptian security forces in armored vehicles and bulldozers violently cleared out two sprawling Cairo camps filled with Islamist protesters early Wednesday, killing dozens of people who had been participating in a massive sit-in demanding the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. The military-backed interim government said 95 people had died, but the Muslim Brotherhood put the death toll as high as 2,000.
The Brotherhood told its supporters to take to the streets and called on international human rights groups to rally to its side. News of the Cairo clashes provoked unrest in cities across the country, and the government declared a month-long state of emergency, claiming that some members of security forces had been killed, too.
Nervous observers around the world openly speculated that the bloodshed would only get worse, and some said the massacre had destroyed, once and for all, any chance at reconciling Morsi's Islamist supporters and their military, secular, and Christian rivals. Australian reporter Dan Nolan's reaction on Twitter summed up the fear that Wednesday's violence was just the first battle in what will be an extended war:
So is today the day Egypt is classed as descending into civil war?? Reports from on the ground sound pretty close to it...
— Dan Nolan (@Dan_Nolan9) August 14, 2013
Some analysts argue that the country is definitely at war. Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu argues at The Jewish Press that the only question now is "whether the army wins the war in one day or it goes on endlessly." Either way, he says, "the violence is further evidence that the Obama administration's campaign to make the Middle East safe for democracy, and vice versa, is not working. All the United States and the entire international community can do is wring their collective hands and cry over the violence."
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said the only way for Egypt to avoid spiraling into chaos now is for the military to immediately halt the crackdown. Gul said it was unacceptable for the security forces to strike against civilians, and called on Egyptian authorities to speedily hold elections and restore democratic rule.
The government attempted to justify its action and the state of emergency as a legitimate response to the destruction of property and attacks on innocent civilians by what it called extremist groups. Supporters of the interim government said the protesters weren't peaceful, so the government had to restore order.
A Civil War won't Develop in Egypt! Police forces are facing Terrorists, and that is an international legal right! #Egypt_against_terrorism
— Sharif Hafez (@SharifHafez) August 14, 2013
War or not, the violence appears certain to deepen Egypt's crisis. Here's Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center:
After today's events, there can't be an inclusive pol process. There will be no nat'l reconciliation. Its early days, and this will be long.
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) August 14, 2013
Whatever happens next, it appears the pro-Morsi sit-ins are over. Still, as David Kenner puts it at Foreign Policy, "there is little evidence that it will mark the end of the Muslim Brotherhood's active opposition to the new government." Pro-Morsi crowds are setting up barricades in Cairo and burning tires, he says, prompting more clashes with police.
The violence is also spreading outside of Cairo, where it is taking on an ugly sectarian dimension. Morsi supporters torched three churches in Upper Egypt after police moved to break up the Cairo sit-ins, causing a Coptic rights group to accuse the Brotherhood of "waging a war of retaliation" against Egyptian Christians.
With no hope of compromise in sight, such violence could mark the rule, not the exception, for Egypt's future. [Foreign Policy]