The ruling Egyptian military yesterday declared a state of emergency across the country after a day of fierce fighting between supporters of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi and supporters of the military leaders who ousted him from power on July 3.
A 7 p.m. curfew was in effect, and it came after a day of violent clashes between the armed forces and thousands of protesters who were refusing to leave encampments and sits-ins at squares and mosques for 48 straight days, clashes which turned the capital into a virtual war zone.
Official reports from the interim government say 278 people have been killed and hundreds injured following fierce fighting which began around dawn when military tanks, bulldozers and heavily armed security personnel surrounded the camps to force the protesters out. First came the tear gas, then the bulldozers and the gunfire. By late yesterday thick black smoke was still hovering over the two squares which the protesters were forced to leave. The military has also blocked the major roads into and out of Cairo and barbed wire barricades were quickly erected around all the hotspots.
The Muslim Brotherhood against whom today’s military crackdown was aimed, claimed the death toll amongst its supporters in Cairo was more than 2,000.
The United Nations claimed that the death toll from the clashes was much higher and by nightfall in Egypt, the EU and several countries
around the world were calling for an end to the violence and for restraint
on the part of the military.
Meanwhile thousands of protesters at one location west of Cairo – the Rabaa al Mosque – are still in a stand-off with the armed forces, burning tyres and cars and refusing to leave the mosque which has also turned into a makeshift hospital, treating the injured by the dozen.
Within half an hour of the bulldozers flattening tents and breaking down makeshift barricades at the two main squares – Nasr City and Giza – dozens of smaller protests sprung up across the capital as antimilitary supporters defied orders to leave their protest locations. Egyptians are demanding their constitutional right to protest at the way the man they voted for in the country’s first democratic elections was ousted from power.
The rail train service running across Cairo was suspended early this morning and embassies and banks sent home nonessential staff and later closed. And following the announcement of the state of emergency shops and restaurants also closed for the day.
And as evening descended on Cairo the Egyptian Vice President
El Baradei quit his post to declare his anger over the way in which the military crackdown was carried out. He released a statement saying that there were peaceful solutions to ending the crisis.
From my view across the Nile, the two main bridges linking Cairo to many of its outlying communities including the iconic Tahrir Square remained empty. The streets were deserted. The daily traffic gridlock which usually continues into the evening had vanished. I watched the last of the Nile boats sail in to their assigned harbour berths just as night fell on Cairo, so eager were the boat operators to meet the curfew
deadline. And for the first time since I moved to Egypt boats were not sailing up and down the River Nile.
In this city of 20 million people an eerie calm descended – at least until the curfew ends this morning.
• Natalie Williams is a former Head of News at CCN-TV6