A Day After Major Crackdown, Muslim Brotherhood Vow to Continue Protests

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. The numbers of the dead in Cairo are shocking and so are the pictures from Egypt's capitol that are coming out today. If you've seen some of them, you know they're pretty upsetting. Well, today, more chaos. In the shadow of the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, government buildings were torched by supporters of deposed president Muhammad Morsi. That news, though, is but a plume of smoke after the explosion of violence yesterday, when government forces moved on two pro-Morsi sit-ins. More than 500 people died in the violence. Shaimma Khalil is Egyptian and a journalist with the BBC. So Shaimma, a day after the large-scale bloodshed, where do things stand in Cairo? What does this city look like?

Shaimma Khalil: Marco, I've just come back from Al Iman Mosque, it's a makeshift morgue at the moment. We went in just before sunset prayers and I tell you, I've never seen so many dead bodies in my life. I mean, dozens and dozens of them because, basically, people didn't have anywhere to put them. These were dead bodies that were coming in because of the violence yesterday, but also there were dead bodies that were shifted from the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque. And Rabaa Al-Adawiya, you may have heard the name, is the place where the huge crackdown happened because this is where Muhammad Morsi supporters were. So, you know, the families and the people in that mosque, there was a sense of disbelief. Of course, there's huge sadness; people were in tears, but some people were really confused. They didn't know what was going on and of course it was such a dramatic and tragic scene.

Werman: So at this makeshift morgue, were there families looking around for their loved ones? I mean what was the scene there?

Khalil: There were families looking around for their loved ones. And, you know, the difficulties that they have come through, and I've talked to a doctor that volunteered there, is a couple of things. One is that many of the bodies that were in the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque, in the other mosque, were charred because the mosque was set on fire. And so these bodies are unrecognisable. So families are looking through charred bodies not really able to recognise their loved ones. But others really didn't know where the bodies were, so they would go to one place and they'd send them to another. You know these bodies weren't picked up by the official doctors and by the prosecutors and put in the main morgue. It's really that, you know, you lose a loved one but it also comes down to paperwork because they're unable to bury their family members because they need a burial permit and the only one that can issue a burial permit is an officer or a prosecutor and they've been really, really late to come to the mosque.

Werman: Have you ever seen anything like this in Egypt before, Shaimma?

Khalil: Do you know, Marco, I was born here, I've reported on this for a very long time, I reported on this since the revolution began and there was so much violence happened throughout those two and a half years but nothing like this. Nothing on this scale.

Werman: Stepping outside these grizzly scenes, Shaimma, what have you been hearing from the people you were speaking with today? What's their overall sense of the situation?

Khalil: You know, it's still a sense of two Egypts, really, of a split country because, you know, where we were in this makeshift morgue in the mosque, of cours,e it was full of Muhammad Morsi supporters and throughout these funerals and, you know, throughout the taking out of these bodies there were chants of [speaking arabic] "God is great," but also chants praising Morsi and saying that they're going to stand behind him and I've seen women who were dressed completely in black, but also young women dressed in colorful headscarves, all holding Muhammad Morsi posters and saying "yes to the legitimacy and no to the coup," of course referring to military ousting him. So still, you know, emotions are quite high with the Muslim Brotherhood supporters. On the other hand, I was in another neighborhood and they were completely the opposite. They were quite happy with what's going on. They said that this is what the army should do. What really concerned me is that they said "We're not going to just stand there and watch. We're going to meet their violence with more violence" and, you know, that was from someone, a completely random bystander who was ready for conflict even before it happened.

Werman: Any reconsideration among those supporters of the oust of Morrisey about where this path of violence has now led?

Khalil: You know, that's really interesting because in the first few days after the ousting, it was a very clear split: people were either celebrating or mourning what was going on. But now, when people saw the scale of the violence and the ugliness of it, many, many people were quite concerned about how the army and the security forces and the police have been handling this. They have been reminded by really ugly scenes of the heavy-handedness of the Ministry of Interior, by the heavy-handedness of the army when they take to the streets. And some are raising questions, some are saying, well, you know, "Is this a return to the military rule?" And this is something that they fought against a year and a half ago. But, I tell you, the majority of the camp that is against the Muslim Brotherhood are quite happy with what is going on because the one thing that they want to see is the Muslim Brotherhood out of power, the Muslim Brotherhood really going underground. That's what they're aiming for.

Werman: Where is the Muslim Brotherhood today?

Khalil: Some of them are on the streets again, like outside that mosque that we went to. Many of them are in hiding. And, you know, many of them have also been arrested, you know, we've seen the scenes with security forces storming these camps and arresting many, many people. Not much has been said about the leadership, who is arrested and who is at large, but I think they're all, kind of, trying to take a, you know, a step back and re-group and rally support for tomorrow.

Werman: And tomorrow, Friday, explain what might happen tomorrow.

Khalil: It's basically a question I've put to many of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters today, I said "Well, there's not many of you on the streets today, what happens Friday?" and they said "We're not gonna let this pass. We're gonna let the world know what we think." They say they plan quite big protests that, I think what's gonna happen is in key locations, in key mosques where they know that they have the support and they know where their constituents are, there're going to be big prayers and then the rallies and the demonstrations will start from there in different locations of the capital.

Werman: Finally, Shaimma, you're Egyptian, as I said, the country is understandably close to your heart. How are you handling what's going on?

Khalil: You know, I think about the people that I've met throughout the years and the people that I've watched with so much hope and so much to look forward to and so much happiness that finally they could build a new country when Hosni Mubarek was ousted when he stepped down and that was back in 2011. And back then there was just so much hope and so much belief for change. And the saddest thing, really, is that you don't see this anymore. I think you see people that have almost just given up: given up trying to take to the streets, given up trying to ask for their rights. They know at the end it's just going to turn violent and, you know, some people say "We're happy that the army is protecting the country but it almost feels like we're back to square one because we weren't able to stand up for ourselves and we weren't able to achieve the democracy that we fought for."

Werman: The BBC's Shaimma Khalil. Thanks very much for speaking with us, Shaimma.

Khalil: Thanks, Marco. Thanks for having me.