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Burned Bodies, Broken Barricades: Cairo's Crackdown Leaves Dozens Dead

CAIRO -- Right now, the "Anti-Coup Alliance," an umbrella group of organizations that oppose Egypt's new government, is claiming that 2,200 people have been killed in this morning's crackdown on pro-Morsy protesters in Cairo. Meanwhile, Egypt's Health Ministry reported that at least 15 people have been killed.

The disparity speaks not only to the murkiness of the information coming out of the pro-Morsy sit-ins, but also to the political polarization currently gripping Egypt. Both sides have created their own set of facts, and are wielding them to rally their ideological base.

Here's what we know so far: Around 7 a.m. this morning, riot police assaulted the demonstrations with tear gas and gunfire, moving quickly to bulldoze the barricades that the protesters had erected around the sit-ins. Within hours, they had succeeded in clearing the pro-Morsy sit-in at Nahda Square, which was the smaller of the two demonstrations. The security forces' move to disperse the sit-ins contradicted statements from anonymous Interior Ministry officials over the past few days, which indicated that they would establish a cordon around the demonstrations but not storm them.

The actual death toll is somewhere between the figures being quoted by both the pro- and anti-Morsy sides. The Independent's Alastair Beach reported counting a total of 73 bodies at two morgues near the pro-Morsy sit-in outside the Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque. There are also casualties at the Nahda Square sit-in: A very graphic video purports to show the burned bodies of protesters there. With clashes still ongoing and casualties still being counted, the final death toll looks poised to rise.

The violence, however, has so far not resulted in any obvious rifts between the government and the security forces. In a brief statement, Egypt's Cabinet praised the security forces' self-restraint, and blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for any bloodshed.

Several Muslim Brotherhood leaders have also been arrested, according to the Interior Ministry. While most of the names have not been released, Reuters reported that leading Brotherhood official Mohamed Beltagy is among those arrested. The pro-Morsy media team denied that Beltagy had been arrested, but reported that his son and daughter had been killed during the dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in. Egypt's general prosecutor issued a warrant for Beltagy's arrest last month, on charges of "planning, inciting and aiding criminal acts."

Today will mark the end of Cairo's two pro-Morsy sit-ins -- but there is little evidence that it will mark the end of the Muslim Brotherhood's active opposition to the new government. Pro-Morsy crowds began organizing a demonstration in the Cairo neighborhood of Mohandiseen this morning, setting up barricades and burning tires. The police moved to disperse the protest, and the situation quickly devolved into violence.

The violence is also spreading outside of Cairo, where it is taking on an ugly sectarian dimension. Morsy supporters torched three churches in Upper Egypt after police moved to break up the Cairo sit-ins, causing a Coptic rights group to accuse the Brotherhood of "waging a war of retaliation" against Egyptian Christians.

With no hope of compromise in sight, such violence could mark the rule, not the exception, for Egypt's future.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

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