Thursday, 15 August 2013


CAIRO — Gathering Thursday morning around a mosque used as a morgue for hundreds killed the day before, many Islamists waited confidently for a surge of sympathetic support from the broader public. But it failed to materialize. With their leaders jailed or silent, Islamists reeled in shock at the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history. By Thursday night, health officials had counted 638 dead and nearly 4,000 injured, but the final toll was expected to rise further. A tense quiet settled over Cairo as the city braced for new protests by the supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, after Friday Prayer. The new government authorized the police to respond with lethal force if they felt endangered. Many of those waiting outside the makeshift morgue talked of civil war. Some blamed members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority for supporting the military takeover. A few argued openly for a turn to violence.
“The solution might be an assassination list,” said Ahmed, 27, who like others refused to use his full name for fear of reprisals from the new authorities. “Shoot anyone in uniform. It doesn’t matter if the good is taken with the bad, because that is what happened to us last night.”

Mohamed Rasmy, a 30-year-old engineer, interrupted.

“That is not the solution,” he said, insisting that Islamist leaders would re-emerge with a plan “to come together in protest.” Despite the apparently wide support for the police action by the private news media and much of Cairo, he argued that the bloodshed was now turning the rest of the public against the military-appointed government.

“It is already happening,” he said.

The outcome of the internal Islamist debate may now be the most critical variable in deciding the next phase of the crisis. The military-backed government has made clear its determination to demonize and repress the Islamists with a ruthlessness exceeding even that of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the autocrat who first outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood six decades ago. How the Islamists respond will inevitably reshape both their movement and Egypt. Will they resume the accommodationist tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood under former President Hosni Mubarak, escalate their street protests despite continued casualties, or turn to armed insurgency as some did in the 1990s?

President Obama, interrupting a weeklong vacation to address the bloodshed, stopped short of suspending the $1.3 billion in annual American military aid to Egypt but canceled joint military exercises scheduled to take place in a few months. Instead of “reconciliation” after the military takeover, “we’ve seen a more dangerous path taken through arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s associations and supporters, and now tragically the violence that’s taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.”

Soon after his speech, the State Department issued an advisory warning United States citizens living in Egypt to leave “because of the continuing political and social unrest.”

The military-appointed government in Cairo accused Mr. Obama of failing to grasp the nature of the “terrorist acts” Egypt is facing. A statement issued by the office of interim President Adly Mansour said Mr. Obama’s remarks “would strengthen the violent armed groups and encourage them in their methods inimical to stability and the democratic transition.”

In Europe, some officials called for a suspension of aid by the European Union, and at least one member state, Denmark, cut off support. The British and French summoned their Egyptian ambassadors to condemn the violence. In Ankara, Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ideological ally of Mr. Morsi’s, called for an early meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss what he called a “massacre.”