independent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent based in Cairo.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have called for a nationwide Day of Rage today after Wednesday’s security crackdown left at least 638 people dead and 3,000 people injured. The violence on Wednesday began when security forces raided two protest camps in Cairo set up to denounce the military overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi. Today’s protest marches began after Friday prayers at 28 mosques in Cairo. We go to Cairo to speak to Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Egypt, where members of the Muslim Brotherhood have called for a nationwide "Day of Rage" today to protest Wednesday’s security crackdown that left at least 638 people dead and more than 3,000 people injured. The violence on Wednesday began when security forces raided two protest camps in Cairo set up to denounce the military overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
AMY GOODMAN: Today’s protest marches are expected to begin after Friday prayers at 28 mosques in Cairo. Security forces are already in the streets blocking key parts of the city, including Tahrir Square.
We go now to Cairo to speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.
Sharif, tell us what’s happening today.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, it’s a very tense day, Amy. There’s calls for marches to go out from 28 mosques across the capital by pro-Morsi groups, and there’s been a stepped-up deployment by the military across the capital with army tanks and APCs and soldiers blocking main thoroughfares, completely encircling Tahrir, not allowing anyone in. There are already reports coming out of people who have been killed, in Ismailia and Tanta, one at Canal City, another one a city in the Nile Delta. There’s been clashes in Alexandria and Suez. If those reports are confirmed, that does not bode well for the rest of the day, as these marches just began.
There’s a very large gathering that’s happening in Ramses Square, which is in central downtown Cairo, and police are being deployed, as well. The interior minister yesterday authorized police and security officials to use live ammunition against any assault on state institutions or on the police. And this came in the wake of Morsi supporters attacking a local government building in Giza, part of greater Cairo, setting it ablaze and burning it down, as well as attacks on churches around the country. So it’s a very tense situation.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sharif, this represents the worst political bloodshed, what happened this week, in the modern history of Egypt. Do you get any sense among the supporters of Morsi that more may then say that elections and democracy don’t work, that they’ve got to turn to civil war and violence against the government?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, I think we’re at a very pivotal and critical point in terms of what the internal debate is within the Islamist movement, what their decisions will be. It remains to be seen what control even the Muslim Brotherhood and other leading groups have over the rank and file anymore. When you have upwards of 600 people being killed in a single day across the country, what is the response to that? And we’ve already seen these attacks happening on Christian churches, a result of very divisive religious rhetoric. And—but it almost seems that the security establishment in Egypt—the police, the army—as well as the political groups that supported the military’s intervention, are almost trying to bait the Islamists and provoke them into violence in order to justify repression, a further crackdown, and push them completely outside of politics. So it’s a very dangerous road that we’re going on in Egypt. This slow-moving train wreck that we’ve been on for some time now is looking as if it’s speeding up into a head-on collision.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, The New York Times has a front-page piece, "In Tense Cairo Islamists Look to Next Move," and it says, "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." One said, "The solution might be an assassination list." Your response?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I mean, it’s hard to tell where it’s going. I think when people talk of civil war, we have to just make sure that—we’re in a very different situation than a country like Syria, which had a lot of militias and a much deeper sectarian issue. The real monopoly of violence here lies with the police and the army. What we could go into is something like more of a low-level insurgency, something that we saw in the 1990s, with Islamists committing terrorist acts, like we saw in Luxor and Imbaba and so forth, and a very severe security clampdown that came with that, that really stalled any efforts for reform within the state, as well. So, that’s a potential direction that we’re going. And I think today will be an important day. The pro-Morsi groups, I think, have nothing else other than taking to the streets right now. Will they continue going into these kinds of protests? Will they step up their protests and the violence, that they have engaged in in the last couple of days, even further? We have to see where it’s going. Much of their leadership is in prison, and we don’t know who’s really making the decisions.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned that the bulk of violence, the overwhelming bulk, is coming from the military and the police, and yet the Obama administration is still saying—well, basically, the president said yesterday he’s cancelling some military exercises that were planned, but no real effort by the United States government, which basically buys and pays for the Egyptian military, to cut off the huge military aid to those generals.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right, and so this has been a continuation of U.S. policy. Obama yesterday, you know, kind of scolded the military after this massive crackdown that it oversaw, with the police killing so many hundreds of people, and cancelled what’s called Bright Star, this joint military exercise that’s held every two years, which is a source of pride for the Egyptian military, but, you know, not much more than that. And the last one that was held really was in 2009, because the 2011 one was cancelled. But again, yeah, the $1.3 billion of aid that goes toward the Egyptian military was not even brought up by President Obama. He said, "We do not choose sides." But when you fund the military to the tune of $1.3 billion and have very strong ties—I mean, we have Chuck Hagel calling al-Sisi almost every day, apparently—then, you know, I think it—that those things weren’t even discussed or brought up by Obama is telling.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, finally, because I know you have to get out to cover these mass protests today, this Day of Rage, two things: One is the response of Tamarod, and who they are, and why it matters; and, two, Mohamed ElBaradei, the vice president, stepping down, the significance of this?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Tamarod was the group that first organized a petition campaign that began on May 1st that gathered millions of signatures and first called for the June 30th protests. They were started by some grassroots activists. I know one of them. He’s part of a group called the Revolutionary Socialists, which is a very radical revolutionary group, was very anti-military, anti-the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and took to protests all the time. But since the—or, you know, over the course of the last couple of months, the Tamarod line has completely backed the military line. There’s no difference anymore. So, you know, they’ve been completely co-opted by the security establishment. They have praised the use of force by the security apparatus in the crackdown on Wednesday. And they’ve called for citizens to form popular committees and protect state institutions today, so that could bring on more citizen-on-citizen violence.
Of course, Mohamed ElBaradei was the most high-profile statesman that was part of the interim government that was overseeing this military-led transition. His resignation was significant in that it reduced even further, to the extent that there was any, the credibility of the interim government. And there may be further resignations, as well. And so, you know, I think it’s very clear who’s in charge—it always was, really: The military is. But with Baradei’s resignation, I think it was a blow to the credibility, especially in the international community.
And also, just quick final point, before we went to air, Turkey and Egypt recalled their ambassadors. So that is probably the biggest diplomatic repercussion we’ve had so far, and there may be more to come.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Turkey recalled its ambassador?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Egypt did, as well, from Turkey.
AMY GOODMAN: Ah. Sharif, we want to thank you for being with us, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent in Cairo. We’re going to link, and we’ve continued to link to, his Twitter feed on our website, and link to his latest piece for The Nation called "Chaos and Bloodshed in the Streets of Cairo." Sharif, stay safe. We’ll also put up reports he has over the weekend as developments happen in Egypt.