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Government Clears Protest Camps, Killing Hundreds | Pro-Morsi Crowds Lash Out Against Christian Properties

The government took decisive action against the protest camps today as security forces began the operation to clear the Nahda Square and Raba’a al-Adaweya sites at around 7.00am local time, initially using tear gas and birdshot. Egyptian state TV reported that a “safe exit” path was arranged at both sites for people to leave the camps. Reports of security forces exchanging gunfire with armed pro-Morsi demonstrators emerged amid news of heavy gunfire being directed by security forces towards the two camps. During the conflict, a security forces armored vehicle (apparently with people inside) drove off the bridge trying to evade the protesters.

Brotherhood supporters reportedly opened indiscriminate fire on a police station in Kerdassa (Giza), leaving 15 dead, prior to setting it, as well as cars in the area, on fire.

The smaller Nahda Square protest was relatively quickly dispersed; the Raba’a al-Adaweya site was declared to be under full government control at around 7.30pm local time. The Egyptian TV channel al-Hayah reported that police found 20 bodies under the stage at Raba’a al-Adaweya, though this was not confirmed by others. The area under the stage had previously been alleged to be an area where people detained by Brotherhood members were held and tortured. Live TV images have been aired showing hundreds of Morsi supporters leaving the Raba’a al-Adaweya site in relatively orderly fashion. Rail and roads into Cairo have been shut down, reportedly to reduce the likelihood of additional pro-Morsi supporters coming into the city.

The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a pro-Morsi group, called on its supporters to march on the streets and “stop the massacre” at pro-Morsi sit-ins at al-Istiqama Mosque in Giza, al-Fath Mosque in downtown near Ramses Square, al-Nour Mosque in Abbassiya, Assad al-Furat Mosque in Dokki and al-Alf Maskan Square near the Heliopolis district (all of these are in areas of greater Cairo).

By the end of the day, there were officially 149 dead and 1,403 injured, according to the Ministry of Health. The final official death toll, issued in September, was 533, though a coalition of protest groups put the count at 869 civilians, seven security personnel, and twenty-eight bodies found in the Raba’a protest area. Other groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, claimed the toll was much larger.

Following the actions against the two sit-ins, alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters have attacked various buildings throughout the country, including at least fifty churches burned or otherwise attacked, various Christian schools, police stations, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.  A photo gallery portraying some of the violence in Alexandria can be found here. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the most prominent Egyptian NGOs, has detailed many of these various events in their Twitter feed.  The sectarian attacks extended to burning Christian-owned businesses as well. These acts follow an escalating Islamist campaign of intimidation and violence against the Coptic community, including graffiti placed on a church calling the Coptic pope “a son of a dog” and warning that “Islam is coming,” the destruction of Coptic-owned property, and killings. Rhetoric speaking of a “war on Islam” and placing blame on the Coptic community for the ouster of Morsi had been a feature of Islamist speech over the past month. Images of some of the attacks on Coptic churches, businesses, and property can be found here.

state of emergency has been declared for a period of at least one month, beginning at 4pm today. A curfew has also been declared for the duration of state of emergency daily from 7pm to 6am for 11 governorates: Cairo; North Sinai; South Sinai; Alexandria; Asyut; Sohag; Minya; Bahera; Giza; Suez; and Beni Suef. The presidency has authorized the military to support police and security forces in keeping order in the streets.

The government’s actions were met with widespread approval from non-Islamist Egyptians. The National Salvation Front, an alliance of secular, liberal parties, issued a statement praising the dispersal. However, interim Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei submitted his resignation from office on August 14, following the violence. In his letter of resignation, ElBaradei cited the difficulty in assuming responsibility for decisions to which he was opposed as the reason for his departure from the Egyptian cabinet. ElBaradei also added that the military ouster of Morsi had only benefitted political actors who call for “violence [and] terrorism.”

The White House “strongly condemned” the violent actions taken by the interim government against protesters. The White House also “strongly opposes” the return to a state of emergency in Egypt. The US State Department has echoed these sentiments. In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “condemned in the strongest terms” the use of violence by Egyptian security forces in clearing demonstrations and sit-ins today. Mr. Ban also urged Egypt to move forward with genuinely inclusive reconciliation. European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton urged Egyptian security forces to utilize “utmost restraint” in dispersing pro-Morsi sit-ins.  Ashton also emphasized that “confrontation and violence is not the way forward to resolve key political issues.”

Other countries have commented on the violence in Egypt as well. British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed “deep concern” with the escalation of violence today. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged the interim government to resume negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood and renounce violence in the wake of a “very dangerous situation” in Egypt. Turkish President Abdullah Gul responded to calls for military intervention to pro-Morsi sit-ins as “completely unacceptable,” denouncing military repression of civilian protests, as Turkey continues to refer to the military ouster of Morsi as an “unacceptable coup.” Iran has also condemned the violence in Egypt. Referring to today’s events as a “massacre of the population,” Iran warned that serious consequences may follow. In the Gulf, Qatar has urged Egypt’s interim government to spare the lives of protesters, joining others in condemning the actions of security forces.