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State of Emergency in Egypt After Violent Response to Deadly Protest Crackdowns

August 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: The political crisis in Egypt reached a new turning point today. Security forces made good on a pledge to sweep away sit-ins that sprang up after the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi in late June. The country’s health ministry reported at least 235 civilians and 43 policemen were killed and more than 2,000 people were hurt.

Gunfire and tear gas filled the streets of Cairo, as the Egyptian capital took on the sights and sounds of a war zone. Shooting erupted this morning, as police moved in force to clear away the main sit-in site occupied by supporters of Morsi.

MAN (through interpreter): This blood — a man was standing next to me. In a second, he was hit in the chest and died. He died in a second. He was hit in the chest. What have we done?

MAN (through interpreter): We had made a barricade and were standing in front of it. We didn’t do anything. We weren’t doing anything at all. We had our hands up in the air like this. Why are they killing us? Why are they killing us?

JEFFREY BROWN: An Egyptian Internet TV service showed police apparently firing live rounds directly into the crowds. But state TV broadcast this infrared footage and said it showed the pro-Morsi crowds firing at police. Some residents said the protesters shot first.

MAN (through interpreter): They, the Morsi supporters, are firing on people with guns and automatic weapons. The army and police are over there. Do you hear that? People can’t even stand or see what’s happening and they’re firing heavy weapons at us.

JEFFREY BROWN: At least two journalists were among those killed: a cameraman for Britain’s Sky News and a reporter for the Gulf News, based in the United Arab Emirates.

A spokesman for Egypt’s military-backed interim government blamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood for the bloodshed, and insisted police did their best to avoid any killing.

SHERIF SHAWKY, media adviser to Egyptian Interim Prime Minister (through interpreter): The government demands the political leadership of the Brotherhood stop incitements to violence, which threaten national security. The government also salutes the efforts of the security services, as these forces are using the utmost self-restraint and highest degree of professionalism in the operation to clear the sit-in.

JEFFREY BROWN: Also this morning, security forces cleared a smaller sit-in without much resistance.

But, elsewhere in the city, running street battles broke out, and vehicles, police stations, and government buildings were set ablaze. From Cairo, the violence spread to other cities across Egypt. In Suez, smoke and tear gas billowed into the air as pro-Morsi demonstrators clashed with police. Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Giza used barricades to shield themselves from gunfire.

And, in Alexandria, anti-Morsi protesters joined security forces in raiding pro-Morsi camps.

Just last night on the NewsHour, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy had argued it was imperative to break up the protest sites.

FOREING MINISTER NABIL FAHMY, Egypt: We have been trying to resolve it for quite a while now. Every effort will continue to be exerted to resolve it. This ultimately is something that will help Egypt move on.

JEFFREY BROWN: But today’s events laid bare a split in the regime. Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei condemned the crackdown and resigned in protest.

A number of foreign governments were highly critical as well. Turkey had criticized the ouster of Morsi, and President Abdullah Gul rejected today’s action.

PRESIDENT ABDULLAH GUL, Turkey (through interpreter): Armed intervention on civilians, on people demonstrating is completely unacceptable. No matter what the reason is, such actions would open dangerous doors.

JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. response came from Secretary of State John Kerry this afternoon in Washington.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Today’s events are deplorable and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy. Egyptians inside and outside of the government need to take a step back. They need to calm the situation and avoid further loss of life.

JEFFREY BROWN: But Egypt’s interim government gave no sign it was prepared to step back. Instead, officials declared a month-long state of emergency and imposed a nighttime curfew on Cairo and 10 provinces.

As night fell, police announced they had taken complete control of the sit-in sites in Cairo.