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Egypt Continues To Slip Further Into Chaos, Violence


This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea. Coming up later in the show, our cover story: Libertarians and the Republican Party. But first, Egypt continues to slip further into chaos and violence today.


GONYEA: That's the sound of gunfire at a central Cairo mosque, where hundreds of antigovernment protesters had taken refuge. Officials say they cleared the mosque after negotiating safe passage through a crowd of hostile civilians opposed to ousted President Morsi. Across the country, thousands of protesters took to the streets again today, remaining out in several cities in defiance of the government-imposed 7 p.m. curfew.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Cairo and joins us now. Peter, what do we know about the fate of the protesters in that mosque?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: It was a very tense situation there much of the day. Journalists who ventured in were threatened by a hostile crowd that was surrounding the mosque. This is the place that had been a makeshift morgue and a field hospital yesterday, when there was all that shooting. Protesters ran in to get away from the violence. As the 7 p.m. curfew hit, hundreds of them remained inside, afraid to come out. And this morning, the crowd gathered around the mosque, and the standoff continued pretty much all day.

At one point, officials say shots were fired from the minaret, which then resulted in a hail of gunfire from security forces outside. A bunch of negotiating took place and eventually, the protesters started to trickle out - usually surrounded by police, to protect them from the crowd outside.

Interior ministry now says everyone's out, most of them under arrest. We really haven't confirmed exactly where they are, or what's happened to them. State TV just announced 250 Brotherhood supporters are under investigation for murder. That could refer to those folks. It's about the same number, but there are still a lot of questions we haven't answered.

GONYEA: OK. And government officials, meanwhile, stepped up efforts to tell their side of the story today. What are they saying?

KENYON: Well, as you know, there's competing narratives here. The Muslim Brotherhood sees Morsi's ouster as a military coup, while the military-backed government says it was just an expression of the popular will. Now, today, government spokesman Mostafa Hagazi described Morsi's removal as an effort to, quote, "end the reign of theological fascism." He denied that Egyptian society is polarized. He said they're more united than ever. And in this excerpt, Hagazi says these events have nothing to do with politics. Here's how he put it.

MOSTAFA HAGAZI: We're truly up against a war of attrition that has been waged by forces of extremism, developing by the day into some sorts of terrorism.

KENYON: Now, Hagazi also criticized the media. He said not enough attention's being paid to violence against Christians, for example, by the Brotherhood. And I can tell you, standing among crowds of Brotherhood supporters recently, I do hear anti-Christian comments pretty frequently.

GONYEA: There were more high-profile arrests today, including the detention of the brother of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Can you tell us about that?

KENYON: Well, al-Zawahiri left Cairo decades ago, before joining al-Qaida, but his family has been largely untouched. They haven't been linked to the terrorist group. Now, the brother arrested today, Mohammed al-Zawahiri, does head a conservative Salafist Muslim group. He's been linked by the government to Bedwyn militants in the Sinai. He's also a supporter of Mohammed Morsi. His arrest is seen by some analysts as an effort to link Morsi and the Brotherhood to all kinds of terrorism - from the Sinai militants to others. And so that may be part of an attempt to demonize the organization.

GONYEA: So hundreds of people have died since Wednesday. What are people saying there about what this all means for the future of their country?

KENYON: So far, no one is seeing any change in course, and the course seems to be on a continued collision effort. The government's been accused of using excessive force. And its response has been to focus on violence by the Brotherhood, not to change their tactics. The Brotherhood has seen this before, beginning under Nasser in the '50s. It's always survived.

But what's different now is, they actually held power for a year. And having that yanked away by the military - although many Egyptians agree, they didn't use the power very wisely - it's seen by the Brotherhood as an intolerable injustice. And it's hard to see right now how either side backs down.

GONYEA: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Cairo, Egypt. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, Don. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.