Egypt witnessed the bloodiest day in its modern history this week. More than 600 people were killed, most during a security crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
And it isn’t over. Dozens more have died since, some in citizen-on-citizen violence. A standoff is going on at a central Cairo mosque. And the nation is spiraling out of control. This, as much of Egypt has little sympathy for Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood or their supporters.
In a vibrant shopping district in central Cairo, people heap praise on Egypt’s military. The military that overthrew Morsi after millions took to the streets to demand his ouster. The military that appointed this new government. And the cabinet that ordered a crackdown so brutal that there were too many bodies for the state to process in a timely manner.
All of it is for the good of Egypt. So says Mustapha Ali, a student who sells watches at this marketplace.
The Muslim Brotherhood are terrorizing innocent people, he says. He adds that he trusts the army. The military would would never hurt Egyptians, he says.
To many here the Muslim Brotherhood is just a bunch of terrorists. The group propelled Morsi to power through elections last year, and few outside of the pro-Morsi marchers have sympathy for them. It is a narrative that’s been in part shaped by local TV channels.
On state television anchors read out the news. A constant tag in the corner is written in English: “EGYPT FIGHTING TERORRISM.”
On a privately owned pro-military channel,333 a reporter interviewed detainees overnight. More than 1,000 people have been arrested by security forces. He shoves a microphone into a scared looking Pakistani man’s face.
Why are you in Egypt? Did you go to the protests?
The man is bewildered. He answers in broken Arabic: I’m working, just for work.
It is an alarming indication of the broad social mandate for extreme use of force against the Brotherhood and its supporters. The overwhelming majority of those dead are pro-Morsi protesters. And the state blames the Brotherhood for concocting what it calls a terrorist conspiracy against the state.
Ziad Akl, is an analyst at an Egyptian think tank.
“What we’re seeing is basically how the army very much shaped the public perceptions of Egyptians,” Akl said. “On the other hand, of course, what we’re seeing is the very normal, expected result of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political attitude.”
Morsi committed human rights violations during his rule, he tried to fill the state with his own supporters and exclude others.
And the bloodbaths today, no matter how horrific, are widely accepted, Akl said.
“We will not necessarily see a civil war, but what we’re seeing right now is probably a state of social aggression that the Islamic movement has never known before in Egypt,” he says.
As the death toll mounts, the nation is fracturing and the military is firmly in power. The Brotherhood refuses to leave the streets, seeing this as a fight for its survival. And the military and police show no signs of stopping the crackdown.
Tamarrod, the youth movement that started the signature campaign that led to the military coup, is fanning the flames.
The head of the group, Mohammed Badr, spoke to a local channel.
“The Muslim Brotherhood says they’ll burn Egypt if they don’t get what they want,” Badr said. “But this country is bigger than them.”
He calls on Egyptians to protect the streets and stand with the army. Armed vigilantes are roaming neighborhoods and clashing with Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Some among the pro-Brotherhood protesters are also armed.
Tamarrod also launched a signature campaign to reject U.S. aid and cancel the peace treaty with Israel. It was spurred by the U.S. condemnation of the bloodbath on Wednesday.
Back in the marketplace in the central Cairo district of Attaba, a mile away from major clashes, Mustapha Ali is not a minority voice. Others echo the same sentiments of the student selling watches. The army is saving Egypt from terrorists.
We walk into a shop where Nasser Sh’aalaan sells women’s clothes. God help us, he says, and drops his head. He is a minority voice on the street.
Nasser says Egypt’s army shouldn’t support some Egyptians against others.
He says we don’t want Morsi or his Muslim Brotherhood and we don’t want military rule; we want someone humane.
Another man in the shop yells out, God burn the Brotherhood leaders!
Nasser accuses the man of being a remnant of the old regime. It is an argument that echoes across the country as Egyptians watch the country burn on live television.