I've read a lot of news stories and blog posts from a wide variety of sources and the theme that keeps getting repeated is that somehow the Muslim Brotherhood deserved this crackdown.
I couldn't agrree more. Except for one, small detail; in the process of cracking down on the Brothers, hundreds of women and children were killed or wounded.
There is little doubt that some Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters fired at police, threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, burned Christian churches, and attacked poilice stations in several cities. The Health Ministry claims 43 police are among the dead. I'll leave it to your judgment in ascertaining how truthful that number might be.
But the point is simple; the government stopped negotiating a potential peaceful solution with the Brothers for no apparent reason. Since the Brotherhood had imported women and children to act as human shields, the responsibility to do everything possible to avoid a bloody massacre like the one that occurred yesterday falls squarely on the shoulders of the government.
Bottom line: There were other options besides going in with guns blazing.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns spent nearly a week trying to bring the two sides together, including a very well-crafted effort backed by both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to push imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat el-Shater towards compromise. These attempts at quiet diplomacy under extremely difficult conditions were worthwhile and well-intentioned at the time, even if undermined by conflicting signals from Kerry and self-appointed interlocuters such as Sens. McCain and Lindsey Graham.
But those justifications hold less weight now after the failure of mediation, the assault on the Brotherhood's sit-in, and the declaration of a state of emergency.
These efforts to broker a political deal were never likely to succeed at a time when local forces are fighting what they see as an existential battle for political survival. Neither the military nor the Brotherhood wanted a deal -- and no outside actor had the enough cards to play to encourage either side to make one. But the diplomacy was still worth trying. Even if Washington could not force a deal, its mediation efforts seemed to offer some alternative to violence and something to which the dwindling band of moderates on both sides could cling.
At a minimum, Washington hoped that its role would help to restrain the new Egyptian government from actions which would cause major bloodshed or efforts to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood. Clearly, with corpses now piling up in Cairo's streets, this half-hearted presence has failed, horribly.
The last "state of emergency" in Egypt lasted 30 years not 30 days. One wonders how long this one will go.
Egypt's Health Ministry said Thursday morning that 525 people were killed in violence on Wednesday throughout the country, while 3,717 were wounded. The Muslim Brotherhood said it would hold an afternoon march in Cairo to protest the deaths, Reuters reported.
The casualties were mostly in Cairo where police in riot gear bulldozed two protest camps that had been the flashpoint of growing unrest. Sky News cameraman Mick Deane and Gulf News reporter Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz were among the dead, which included 43 policemen.
The violence prompted Interim President Adly Mansour to declare a month-long state of emergency and impose a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew on Cairo, Alexandria, and 12 other provinces, ordering the armed forces to support the police in efforts to restore law and order and protect state facilities.
Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said in a televised address to the nation that it was a "difficult day" and that he regretted the bloodshed but offered no apologies for moving against the protesters, saying they were given ample warnings to leave and he had tried foreign mediation efforts. El-Beblawi added that the government could not indefinitely tolerate a challenge to authority that the 6-week-old protests represented.
"We want to see a civilian state in Egypt, not a military state and not a religious state," he said.
Despite the curfew, sporadic clashes continued in Cairo through the evening.
In the city of Assiut, south of Cairo, a police station was hit by two mortar shells Wednesday night fired by suspected Morsi supporters, according to officers there who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
As the fighting intensified Wednesday, Mohamed ElBaradei, abruptly resigned as Egypt's interim vice president. In a letter sent to Mansour, ElBaradei cited "decisions I do not agree with" regarding the government's crackdown.
"It has become difficult for me to continue bearing responsibility for decisions that I do not agree with and whose consequences I fear," ElBaradei wrote. "I cannot bear the responsibility for one drop of blood.''
It appears that this situation will not resolve itself and that the government will eventually have to ban the Muslim Brotherhood again. This would necessitate throwing thousands of people in jail for their political beliefs.
The Arab Spring has come full circle.