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Monday's Bloodshed Hardens Political Divisions


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene.

The political crisis in Egypt intensified overnight. The interim president, who was installed by a military coup last week, called for parliamentary elections next year, but gave himself sweeping powers in the meantime.

MONTAGNE: That move came hours after the deadliest clash yet between security forces and supporters of the ousted president Mohammed Morsi. More than 50 people died.

GREENE: And there are fears of more violence between secular factions and Muslim fundamentalists - not just in Egypt, but perhaps in other parts of the Middle East as well.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson files this report from Cairo.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: In this eyewitness video, supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi flee from a rain of bullets fired by security forces here. Who started yesterday's fight in front of Republican Guard headquarters depends on who you ask, but few dispute that it amounted to a massacre.

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el Haddad says what happened only emboldens the group's adherents.


GEHAD EL HADDAD: We're in it till the end. They think they can pull us into a cycle of violence, they won't. We understand the danger of that.

NELSON: But some Middle Eastern analysts fear the group won't be able to stop it. One is Shadi Hamid, who is the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. He says the Brotherhood may be able to rein its own members, but not the more radical factions. They see that despite the Islamists in Egypt winning three elections and two referendums since Hosni Mubarak's ouster, they are nevertheless being forcibly removed from power and brutally suppressed, Hamid says.

SHADI HAMID: So you have these radicals who are now making the case that democracy doesn't work and that violence is the only way forward, so they're as emboldened as ever.

NELSON: Hamid adds there are already signs of this radicalization, like when one group announced a week ago that it was forming a war council to violently avenge the coup. He and others predict moderate Islamists in Tunisia and Libya will also have a harder time convincing their fundamentalist brethren to join the political process, given the precedent being set in Egypt.

Nevertheless, it's extremely unlikely that events yesterday will lead to Morsi being returned to power, says Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

ZIAD AKL: After all, Mohammed Morsi was not doing a brilliant job, and I'm sure it's not difficult to beat it. And I think that's basically what the army has its money on.

NELSON: Still, what happened yesterday delivered a huge political blow to the Egyptian generals and the factions backing them. When word of the death toll spread, the Salafist al-Nour party announced it was pulling out of talks on forming an interim Cabinet.

The ultra-conservative faction gave the coup an appearance of legitimacy. The generals and their secular backers could argue their actions weren't about ousting Islamists, but rather a failed leader.

Analyst Akl says that without the Salafists, Egypt will appear as if it's simply swapping Muslim Brotherhood tyranny for a secular one.

AKL: It should actually make the army more aware that Egypt needs a new government right now, that we cannot delay this any longer.

NELSON: That process is dragging on while anti-Morsi coalition members squabble about who should be in the Cabinet. But last night, interim president Adly Mansour unveiled his plans for the coming months. The so-called, constitutional declaration gives Mansour both legislative and executive powers until parliamentary elections are held early next year.

Meanwhile, a legal team is to draw up amendments to the nation's suspended Islamist-drafted constitution. The amended document will go to a referendum in the fall.

The declaration also gives Mansour the right to impose a state of emergency in Egypt, which suspends many civil rights. That means the military could more easily clamp down on the coup opponents without having to legally answer for it. The state of emergency law was one Mubarak used for decades to shore up his autocratic rule.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.