Middle East
4:41 am
Sun August 18, 2013

Egypt On Edge After A Week Of Deadly Violence

Originally published on Sun August 18, 2013 2:07 pm

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

In Egypt, an emergency cabinet meeting is scheduled for today and more anti-government marches are planned by the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. The government says 173 people were killed in recent days, bringing the week's death toll to nearly 800, with more than a thousand arrested. As international criticism of the violence mounts, Egypt's stock market opened sharply lower and businesses are suspending operations out of security concerns.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is following events in Cairo. Peter, after another day of bloodshed Friday and a long standoff at a mosque yesterday, what is the situation today?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, it's the first day of the Egyptian workweek here. And after a bad weekend, Cairo is making an effort to return to normal. It still feels very different from the usual patterns here because of his dusk-to-dawn curfew. Usually, Cairo is humming with activity late at night, especially in the August heat. But after 7 P.M. now, the streets are mostly quiet except for police and military checkpoints, and some other checkpoints manned by armed civilians supporting the interim government.

And it would be premature to say normal is what we've got here because the Muslim Brotherhood has called for a week of marches, to protest both the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and the crackdown Wednesday that left more than 600 dead.

MARTIN: I understand Egypt's interim foreign minister held a lengthy news conference today. And he defended the actions of the security forces. Did he give any indication that the interim government is preparing to move beyond what appears to be this cycle of protest and crackdown?

KENYON: Well, he tried to talk about that but it was not very reassuring, frankly. Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy continued the defense of the government that the outside world doesn't really get it, they don't understand the gravity of the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. He showed videos of civilians firing weapons, and of burned Coptic Churches - of which there've been dozens in recent days. He suggested that after order is restored, the road map for a new constitution and elections could move forward.

There was a piece in the New York Times today about the failure of diplomacy in the run-up to this crackdown. It portrayed Egypt's military leader and prime minister, especially, as adamantly opposed to making any deal with the Brotherhood, insisting they had to be taken off the streets. Fahmy didn't respond directly to that but he said while there were deals on the table, there wasn't enough confidence that both sides would adhere to them.

About moving ahead on the political front, with passions running so high and so many Brotherhood leaders under arrest, Fahmy really couldn't offer too much short-term hope. Here's how he put it.

NABIL FAHMY: In all honesty, it was a level of violence that we saw, my personal opinion is Egyptian people are much angrier than they were in the past, and therefore - especially those not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood - want to move forward alone. That would be the wrong decision.

KENYON: Now, Fahmy added that any group that pursues its ends peacefully should be included. That may prove to be an important qualifier because the government is focused intently on violence from the Muslim Brotherhood in recent days.

MARTIN: Egypt's interim military government is considering dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood altogether. If it does, what impact would that have?

KENYON: Well, on one level that would simply be a return to the group's experience in the past - banned, sometimes jailed, later tolerated sporadically. The difference now is that in the past, Nasser, for instance, went after the Brotherhood because they tried to assassinate him. This time, the Brotherhood won a fair election and doesn't see why its leader should have been toppled from power, even if Mohamed Morsi did alienate a lot of people.

Morsi's critics, on the other hand, says the military had to step in to save any chance of Egypt becoming a democracy. Now we've got a state of emergency, Brotherhood leaders in jail, and if it's banned a huge chunk of the population that supports the Brotherhood will be disenfranchised. And how you reach a democratic state from there is a very difficult question to answer.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Cairo. Thank you so much, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Rachel.

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