Violent breakup of pro-Morsi protest camp ends Cairo's tense calm

After days of warning, Egypt's interim government finally moved to clear protest camps filled with supporters of the deposed president. 

Imad Abdul Rahman/AP
A member of the Egyptian security forces speaks to a woman holding a stick at they clear a sit-in by supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, at the smaller of the two camps, near the Cairo University campus in Giza, Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013.

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The morning after Egypt’s interim government appointed new provincial governors – many of them retired generals replacing earlier Muslim Brotherhood appointees –  it began clearing two camps of protesters in Cairo calling for the reinstatement of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

Mr. Morsi was ousted from office last month by the military, after national protests drew millions of Egyptians calling for him to resign amid claims that he was mismanaging the economy and only ruling on behalf of his Muslim Brotherhood group.

Since then, more than 250 have been killed in clashes, as Brotherhood supporters have demanded his return to power. And this week’s clearing of those protest camps by government forces, along with the governor appointments, has raised fears of a return to an authoritarian style of leadership under Hosni Mubarak.

"It is Mubarak's days," prominent blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah wrote on his Twitter feed, reports Reuters.

The removal of pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo had been expected for days, but it raises the stakes in Egypt, where the divide between Islamists and secularists is growing. As The Christian Science Monitor reported from the camps Monday, protesters have said that they won’t back down, no matter what action is taken.

According to the Monitor, before today’s dispersal Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag said, “They can disperse a couple of sit ins, but they cannot disperse the idea of sit ins and protest in the minds of people. People will just keep doing it.” 

Journalists on the scene this morning report that the camps were cleared with bulldozers and tear gas as helicopters hovered above. Television footage by Al Jazeera showed protesters being hauled away by authorities, and others bloodied.

The New York Times reports that the Muslim Brotherhood office in London called the operation a “massacre” and said 30 people had been killed in the action, while the Egyptian health ministry reported no deaths.

Since his July 3 ouster, Morsi’s location has been kept secret. The interim government has moved towards prosecuting him for alleged crimes during the ouster of Mubarak in 2011. As the days have mounted since his ouster, protesters have become more defiant.

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, told the outlet that "this battle is much bigger than what you're seeing, and the casualties. This is a fight for the future of the country, and something that will determine the course of the Egyptian revolution that has been going on for two years now. … No one expected this to be an easy operation. It became very clear that both sides were engaged in a battle of wills and a dangerous game of brinkmanship."

That game heated up after the appointment of new governors, many of whom the New York Times reports have been openly hostile to Morsi supporters. Many fear it returns a style of leadership that used governorships to control a police state.

According to the newspaper Al Ahram, Hossam Moenes, spokesperson for the leftist Egyptian Popular Current, said on Twitter that the appointments don't "bode well."

Moenes described the move as a "continuation of the lack of transparency and a disregard for consultations and absence of standards which likens this government to its predecessors."

Interim President Adli Mansour told the new governors that their goal is improve public services, "provide essential commodities at appropriate prices, and bring about security in the Egyptian street,” reports Reuters. The move comes after Morsi had appointed Islamists to the posts. But according to Reuters:

Yasser El-Shimy, Egypt analyst with the International Crisis Group, said it was a "partial return to the status quo ante, where the appointment of retired generals is seen as a way to ensure order and stability.”

"This move will likely play into Islamist accusations that the new regime is an attempt at reviving the old one," he said.

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