Hundreds killed in Egypt crackdown on Morsi supporters

Interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei resigns, curfew and state of emergency declared

An injured Egyptian youth at a makeshift hospital as security forces attacked Morsi supporters in Cairo's Rabaa al Adawiya Square on Wednesday.
Mosaab El-Shamy/AFP/Getty

At least 281 people were killed Wednesday as Egyptian security forces attacked sites occupied for the past six weeks by protesters demanding the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. The state of emergency declared by Egypt's interim president amid the violence on the streets -- and the resignation from the government of interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei -- suggested that a protracted period of political turmoil lies ahead.

ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who had backed the military coup that ousted Morsi, said, "It has become difficult for me to continue carrying the responsibility of decisions I do not agree with," and expressed anxiety over the consequences of Wednesday's security operation.

Egypt's stock exchange and banks were ordered to close on Thursday, and a curfew is being imposed in several provinces including Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.

Conflicting reports have emerged over the number of people killed. As of late Wednesday, Egypt's Health Ministry had put the figure at 281, including 43 members of the security forces, and more than 800 people injured. A nurse at one hospital reported 60 dead.

Al Jazeera's correspondent counted 94 bodies in a makeshift hospital in Nasr City's Rabaa al Adawiya Square. Egyptian state TV later reported that police had seized full control of the square.

Some members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political organization, have put the death toll at up to 2,200, with about 10,000 injured. Al Jazeera could not independently verify those claims.

Among the casualties, the Muslim Brotherhood confirmed the death of the 17-year-old daughter of Mohamed el-Beltagy, one of the organization's leading political figures. Beltagy has been participating in sit-ins.

"We are facing a massacre, or even a war of genocide," Beltagy said. "I swear to God that if people don't keep protesting, [commander of the armed forces] Abdel Fattah al Sisi would just drag this country into more troubles."

Beltagy and seven other senior Brotherhood leaders were arrested at Rabaa al Adawiya Square.

The daughter and son-in-law of Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat al Shater were also killed during the crackdown on the Rabaa al Adawiya sit-in.

The Interior Ministry said six members of the security forces were killed and more than 60 injured while attempting to break up pro-Morsi sit-ins, Egyptian state TV reported. Casualties were also reported during clashes in Fayoum district, about 60 miles south of Cairo, and in the cities of Suez and Ismailia. 

Among those killed in Cairo was Mick Deane, a cameraman for Britain’s Sky News channel. Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, a 26-year-old staff reporter for Xpress, a sister publication of Gulf News, was also shot dead, according to Gulf News.

Other journalists, including Al Jazeera's Abdullah Elshamy and Newsweek’s Mike Giglio, were detained for hours by security forces.

RELATED: Photos: Egypt deadly crackdown on pro-Morsi protests

The interim government praised the security forces for showing self-restraint while breaking up the protest camps, and blamed the Brotherhood for the violence. "The government holds these leaders fully responsible for any spilt blood, and for all the rioting and violence going on," the government said in a statement.

The Interior Ministry said security forces have "total control" over Nahda Square and that "police forces have managed to remove most of the tents" in the area. Security forces blocked all access to the protest camp.

In response to the operation, the Muslim Brotherhood urged Egyptians to take to the streets to "stop a massacre."

"This is not an attempt to disperse, but a bloody attempt to crush all voices of opposition to the military coup," Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad said on Twitter.

The action follows weeks of warnings from the government that force might be used to clear the protesters. The military, which installed the government, expects a strong degree of public support for its offensive.

"They have what is likely significant popular backing for this move," Michael Wahid Hanna, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, told Al Jazeera. "But the core support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists is resilient and cohesive, and more fervent than ever."

Hanna expected that the military's attempt to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters would backfire. "This is likely to result in greater militancy, radicalization and the spread of insurgent tactics throughout the country," he said.

A police vehicle is pushed off the Sixth of October bridge by protesters close to Rabaa al Adawiya Square on Wednesday.
Sabry Khaled/El Shorouk Newspaper/AP

International reaction

The crackdown sparked harsh criticism from the international community, particularly from Western and Arab governments that had urged the interim authorities to act with restraint and had tried for weeks to mediate a compromise.

Wednesday's action came hours after the United States had urged the government to allow Morsi supporters to protest freely. Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the White House condemns violence against Egyptian protesters, saying the crackdown makes the "path to stability harder."

"There's no question the violence we saw overnight is a step in the wrong direction," Earnest said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the U.N. Security Council and the Arab League to act to stop the "massacre."

The European Union called the events in Egypt "extremely worrying." "We reiterate that violence won't lead to any solution, and we urge the Egyptian authorities to proceed with utmost restraint," said Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy-chief Catherine Ashton.

Qatar strongly condemned the security forces' attack and urged Egypt to "refrain from the security option in dealing with peaceful protests."

It was fear that Egypt would descend into chaos that spurred the efforts of Western and Arab mediators. The Century Foundation's Hanna said Wednesday's action will have raised the stakes: "I think there will be rising pressure to take more than symbolic steps to express displeasure and condemnation of today’s violence."

"This is going to be a very big challenge for the interim authorities on the international stage," he added.

Morsi became Egypt's first freely elected leader in June 2012, but a deepening economic malaise and fears over autocratic Islamist rule brought hundreds of thousands of Egyptians into the streets earlier this summer to demand his ouster.

Ehab Zahriyeh contributed to this report. With Al Jazeera and wire services

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