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Crackdown In Egypt Shows Shift In Military's Approach

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In Egypt, protests against the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi turned deadly Saturday, after Egyptian security forces launched the most violent crackdown yet on those demonstrators.

The Egyptian Health Ministry says around 80 people were killed — most of them in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood, from which the deposed president hails, put the death toll at nearly twice that number. Hundreds more were injured.

The crackdown may be part of a plan to seriously weaken — if not dismantle — the Brotherhood.

The scene was chaotic at the main morgue in Cairo, where ambulance workers and emotional relatives of those killed tried to carry their bodies inside. But the morgue was full, and many of the dead remained outside in the sweltering heat. A father whose son had been killed tearfully prayed for help.

Basma Zahran, a lawyer the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, says it's the first time she's she seen the morgue in this state. She adds many of those killed appear to have died from gunfire.

That's something the Egyptian government denies. But as is often the case these days, each side tells a very different story of what happened.

The Interior Minister says police used tear gas to try and disperse pro-Morsi protesters who wanted to attack their opponents at a military-sponsored rally Friday night. The Muslim Brotherhood says what happened was an unprovoked massacre of Morsi supporters, approved by the military.

Some analysts say, unprovoked or not, the crackdown signals a disturbing shift in the military's approach to the Brotherhood, which has a large political base in Egypt.

"This is a new and very troubling escalation, because even under the Mubarak regime, there was never a decision to destroy the Brotherhood," says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.

He adds that the generals appear to want to get rid of the group and end the debate over the forcible removal of Egypt's first democratically elected president.

"The military has decided that it can't afford to have hundreds of thousands of people camped out in different parts of Egypt for the foreseeable future — that's no way to run a country, in their view," Hamid says.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim reinforced that notion at a news conference. He said police will come up with a plan to clear the streets after prosecutors complete an investigation into the pro-Morsi protests.

Ibrahim said he also reactivated much-hated security agencies that spy on Egyptians and were mothballed after Hosni Mubarak's ouster. He claimed the absence of these agencies is why Egypt is in turmoil now.

But with the prospect of further crackdowns, the Brotherhood made it clear that it won't go quietly. The group's spokesman, Ahmed Aref, vowed that Morsi supporters will continue their protests and seek justice for their dead comrades.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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