Bloodiest day since revolution marks new ‘beginning’ for Egypt
CAIRO (CNN) — Military raids on protest camps and vicious battles that followed left scores dead Wednesday in Cairo, starting a new turn in the tumultuous cycle that has rocked Egypt for more than two years.
Clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy made it the country’s bloodiest single day since the 2011 revolution that ousted the previous president, longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak.
“It’s an open war,” said one protester who managed to escape one of the two protest camps.
At least 278 people were killed in Wednesday’s violence, including 235 dead civilians, state TV reported, citing an Egyptian emergency official. Additionally, interim Interior Minister Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim said that 43 police officers were killed.
“I think what we’re seeing right now is just the beginning of what is promising to be a very, very long and bloody battle as the interim government and the security forces try to regain control of the streets,” CNN’s Arwa Damon reported from Cairo.
Both sides accused the other of being the aggressor. Protesters accused security forces of violently cracking down on them. Ibrahim, meanwhile, said he was “surprised” by the “Muslim Brotherhood’s (decision) to attack the security forces,” claiming that armed protesters went after police stations, the Ministry of Finance building and other targets.
Mohammed ElBaradei resigned as vice president of foreign affairs, state-run Nile TV reported.
Egypt declared a monthlong state of emergency beginning at 4 p.m. (11 a.m. ET), according to state television. A curfew was also established in several cities including Cairo, from 7 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday — and all violators will be jailed, state news reported.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the events in Egypt “are deplorable and they run counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy.”
The United States strongly opposes a return to state-of-emergency law in Egypt and urges the Egyptian government “to respect basic human rights,” Kerry said.
“The world is closely watching Egypt” and is “deeply concerned,” he told reporters at the State Department.
‘Prepared to die’
For six chaotic weeks, Morsy supporters had amassed at two camps, refusing to budge until their leader — who had been democratically elected, then ousted in a coup — was reinstated.
They lived and slept in tents. Vendors offered everything from haircuts to masks. Children played in inflatable castles and splashed in kiddie pools.
The government has accused the protesters of packing the sites with their children to use them as human shields.
Wednesday’s raids came as no surprise. The government had made clear it wanted to clear out the camps.
The raids began around dawn. Security forces stormed the two massive, makeshift camps, bulldozing tents and escorting away hundreds of protesters.
Mothers and fathers whisked away children, gas masks on their faces.
Within three hours, forces had cleared the Nahda camp, near the Cairo University campus. Shreds of torn-down tents were left behind.
But the larger protest, near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in eastern Cairo, proved trickier, with forces facing heavy resistance. The military called in special forces.
Protester Hassan Al Qabana described it as a “full-on assault.”
Chaos ensued. Many protesters refused to leave, even in the face of bulldozers and surrounded by the injured and dead. “They said they’re prepared to die,” CNN’s Reza Sayah reported.
Along with smoke, bursts of rapid gunfire continued to fill the air. It was unclear who had the weapons, and who was shooting at whom. People could be heard wailing.
State TV reported that snipers from the Muslim Brotherhood — Morsy’s party — were exchanging gunfire with Egyptian security forces near a university building.
Sky News cameraman Mick Deane was killed, the UK-based news channel reported. Deane had worked for Sky for 15 years and for CNN well before that. The rest of the team was unhurt.
Reuters photojournalist Asmaa Waguih was shot and wounded Wednesday covering the clashes, the news agency told CNN. She is being treated in a hospital.
Habiba Abdel Aziz of Gulf News, in Egypt in a personal capacity after celebrating the Eid holiday, was also killed, editor-at-large Francis Matthew told CNN.
‘Walking on the blood of the victims’
“I have personally never seen this much bloodshed in what, according to what we’ve seen over the past six weeks, had been a peaceful demonstration,” Sayah reported.
Visiting makeshift hospitals, a CNN crew was “literally walking on the blood of the victims,” he said.
Security forces pushed doctors out of one hospital at gunpoint, a witness told CNN.
The fighting wasn’t limited to Cairo. Morsy supporters besieged various churches in Sohag, setting fire to Saint George’s Church, a tour bus and a police car, Egypt’s state-run EGYNews reported.
Interior Ministry sources told CNN that Muslim Brotherhood supporters also attacked three police stations around Egypt.
Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire who helped found the anti-Morsy Free Egyptian Party, said his party had video of Muslim Brotherhood members “shooting machine guns on civilians, on police. So anyone who wants to call this a peaceful demonstration would be wrong.”
He also insisted, “This is no war zone.”
But Ahmed Mustafa, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, told CNN from London that Sawiris was trying to misrepresent video of masked people with weapons.
The Muslim Brotherhood also said police were throwing Molotov cocktails at makeshift clinics.
The Interior Ministry said security forces did not use gunfire and instead were attacked by “terrorist elements” inside the camps.
“Egyptian security forces are committed to the utmost self-restraint in dealing with the protesters,” the ministry said.
Representatives of both sides insisted they oppose violence.
“Today is a tragic day in Egypt,” said Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, part of the pro-Morsy Anti-Coup National Alliance, in an interview with CNN.
He blamed “corrupt elements” in the Egyptian army, calling their actions a “crime against humanity” and “state terrorism.”
“The whole international community should not only condemn this but should not have any dealing with the coup,” he demanded.
But Shehab Wagih, spokesman for the Free Egyptian Party, spoke out in support of the military.
“There is no other resolution when someone is establishing a state inside your state,” he said.
“We believe in human rights,” he insisted. “But at the same time, we cannot accept the idea of having a state inside a state.”
Last month, Information Minister Durriya Sharaf el-Din said the gatherings were a threat to national security and caused traffic congestion.
And two weeks ago, Mansour issued orders in the event of a possible “state of emergency,” the EGYnews website reported.
“State of emergency” is a loaded term in Egypt. Former President Hosni Mubarak ruled for 30 years under an emergency decree that barred unauthorized assembly, restricted freedom of speech and allowed police to jail people indefinitely.
Morsy became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012, a year after popular protests forced Mubarak to resign and end his three-decade rule.
A year into Morsy’s term, many Egyptians wanted him out, too. They said the Western-educated Islamist was not inclusive and had failed to deliver on the people’s aspirations for freedom and social justice.
Morsy was accused of authoritarianism and trying to force the Brotherhood’s Islamic agenda onto the nation’s laws. He was also criticized by many Egyptians frustrated with rampant crime and a struggling economy that hadn’t improved since Mubarak resigned.
Supporters say Morsy repeatedly offered Cabinet positions to secularists and liberals, only to get rejected.
Since taking power from Morsy, Egypt’s military has installed an interim civilian government, with Mansour as interim president.
But Egypt’s generals, who oversaw Morsy’s ouster and led the country for a year after Mubarak’s resignation, still wield power.
The list of accusations against Morsy include: collaborating with the militant group Hamas to carry out hostile acts, attacking law enforcement buildings, officers and soldiers, storming prisons, vandalizing buildings and deliberately burning a prison.
He hasn’t been seen since he was pushed out of office.
“All presidents make mistakes, but you don’t have the army to remove them,” the Anti-Coup National Alliance’s Dardery complained in a CNN interview Wednesday. “… What are we telling to the rest of the Arab world, the Muslim world — that bullets are better than ballots? We don’t want to buy into this. We would like to avoid extremism, we would like to avoid terrorism, and the only way is democracy back on track, respecting the will of the Egyptian people, in the presidency, in the constitution.”
CNN’s Ian Lee reported from Cairo; CNN’s Holly Yan and Josh Levs reported from Atlanta; CNN’s Saad Abedine, Greg Botelho and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.