Hours after the start of the security operation to force the dispersal of two Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo and Giza, government officials assess that things are, by and large, going according to plan, with the aim still to end the operation late Wdnesday — possibly late evening.
Egypt's presidency declared at 4pm Wednesday a state of emergency in Egypt to last for a month, and followed this decision at 5pm with a declaration of a 7pm - 6am curfew.
The president ordered the army to take all necessary measures to preserve security.
The evening to dawn curfew will be enforced in some governorates such as Cairo and Giza, areas that have seen some tough clashes between Muslim Brotherhood members, security forces, groups of thugs and citizens.
The operation that started at dawn Wednesday, coming after the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid El-Fitr, had all but been pre-announced earlier in the week by Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi who had said that force would be used, if need be, to disperse protesters after the holiday.
The sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adawiya in Nasr City and Al-Nahda Square in Giza had been ongoing for six weeks.
Vice President for International Affairs Mohamed ElBaradei had also suggested a resort to “use of force within the limits of law” to end the sit-ins should political mediation fail.
During the last few days there were some hopes for a political settlement between authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood to end a political crisis that started with the ouster of elected president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.
According to identical accounts from official and independent political sources, mediation broke down when Muslim Brotherhood strongman Khairat El-Shater, under custody on criminal charges, allegedly threatened “violence” if the demands of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, including a safe exit for Morsi and El-Shater, were not accommodated. This account is contradicted by Muslim Brotherhood sources who say that the “military” were not interested in reaching a deal and were only making a semblance of pursuing one.
The decision to start the operation to forcefully disperse the sit-ins was taken jointly by the police and military leadership without prior notification of the prime minister or the vice president.
VP ElBaradei reportedly demanded high-level assurances that the operation would not step outside of the boundaries of law, and according to two sources “threatened to resign if the death toll among the protestors proved to be high.”
Meanwhile, ElBaradei and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy have been making rounds of calls with concerned world capitals about developments on the ground and to assure key states of the commitment of Cairo to uphold human rights standards.
Cairo-based Western diplomats said they have not been able to get independent and accurate confirmation on the death toll, and that they are deeply concerned over developments.
“We all knew that an operation was possible, but it all depends on how things will unfold. We need to think of ways to move forward,” a western diplomat told Ahram Online.
On another front, Egyptian diplomats expressed “dismay” at what they said were “unfortunate” attempts by Ankara and Doha to refer developments in Egypt to the UN Security Council, adding that this effort was unlikely to succeed.
UN undersecretary general for political affairs Jeffery Feltman had been scheduled to arrive to Cairo in a few days. Other international envoys, including a delegation from the UN Human Rights Council, are also considering visits, according to UN sources in Geneva.
Government sources told Ahram Online they expect that the world would show interest in developments in Egypt, but they sounded confident that their government has nothing to worry about — especially in view of the alleged confiscation of arms and ammunition at both sit-ins.
For the most part, government officials are convinced that matters are under control and that normality will return in a matter of days — regardless of threats made by some Muslim Brotherhood leaders. These officials bank on the "wide public support," the government, army and security forces enjoy at the moment.