After 48 days of dogged protests, including two major sit-ins east and west of downtown Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood’s fury at the removal of freely elected president Mohamed Morsi has been met with gunfire.

At 7am yesterday morning, armed security forces launched a surprise attack on both camps, setting off a chain reaction throughout Egypt, which according to official figures resulted in 235 dead and more than 2000 injured. Two journalists died, including cameraman Mick Deane from Sky News in the UK, and last night in a televised news conference, Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim confirmed that 43 members of Egypt’s police force had been among those killed.

Ibrahim also said that by day’s end the Nahda sit-in near Cairo University in Giza and the much bigger one in Nasr City had been cleared. Morsi supporters have rejected the official casualty figures, arguing that thousands are dead and many more injured.

The fallout from yesterday’s bloodshed has left the country under a month-long state of emergency, with daily curfews from 9pm until 8am, a situation not seen since the 18-day January 25 revolution in 2011. Egyptian railways were shutdown yesterday as well, as were all archaeological sites and museums throughout the country, largely to prevent looting.

The military-backed transitional government has also lost a key supporter in Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei, who resigned in protest of the violent crackdown on the pro-Morsi sit-ins at Raba’a al-Adawiya in Nasr City and Nahda Square. ElBaradei, generally unpopular in Egypt, had been calling for a peaceful break-up of the demonstrations for weeks and had been pilloried for doing so by the country’s overwhelmingly anti-Morsi media.

Both sit-ins had become family affairs, with more women and children participating during the recent Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr holiday, which ended last weekend.

Many people were worried about what would happen to the children, but the transitional government kept saying protesters would be allowed to leave peacefully at the time of eviction. There was no sense of an impending crackdown after these statements, which made yesterday’s bloodshed so shocking.

ElBaradei was also in favour of earlier diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation, especially by European Union representative Catherine Ashton and US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, which were almost gleefully branded a failure by the same media.

The ouster and detention of Morsi on July 3, announced on state television by military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, followed massive anti-Morsi protests on June 30. A reported 14-30 million people joined those protests, fanning out from Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square in numbers they argued were the only democratic way to rid the country of Morsi’s un-democratic leadership. The military agreed and made it happen by outlining its own “road map” to resolve the crisis engulfing the country.

That such massive numbers have been challenged has never been dealt with, as Sisi has become adored and celebrated like a rock star since his call for validation on July 26 of the military’s role in getting rid of Morsi. “I request that all Egyptians next Friday … go down (into the street) to give me a mandate and an order to confront possible violence and terrorism,” he told a military graduation ceremony in remarks broadcast live by state media.

Ever since that spectacular event, which easily surpassed any Live Aid concert or royal anniversary celebration, the Muslim Brotherhood pro-Morsi forces have dug their heels in, determined to fight for the return of their president. They’ve argued their protests are peaceful but they are constantly portrayed as terrorists and linked daily with the extreme Islamist insurgents causing panic and military retribution in the Sinai. Like many, there was definitely blood on their hands last night.

Sisi says he won’t run for president when and if the scheduled “road map” of a new constitution, parliamentary and presidential elections occurs. But his posters are plastered over walls and for sale in street markets throughout the country — even ones where he’s placed in the middle of former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.

After yesterday there are very few people who can picture a democratic future for Egypt. Perhaps when the shock subsides and the anger dissipates, but even then it will only be a picture.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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