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For those seeking a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Egypt, it's been a discouraging day. Protest led to at least dozens of deaths, according to state figures. Muslim Brotherhood officials put the toll higher. The Brotherhood has called for another week of demonstrations.
For its part, the interim government accused the Muslim Brotherhood of engaging in a terrorist conspiracy, and Egyptian security forces are deployed on the streets of Cairo tonight to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew. We'll explore the options on Egypt for the United States after this report from NPR's Peter Kenyon in Cairo.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Both the military-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood said their top priority today was to keep things peaceful, but few believe them - with good reason, as it turned out.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
KENYON: In central Cairo, thousands of people, mostly visibly angry men, milled and swirled toward Ramses Square. Most were unarmed, although some carried stones, and at least a few had poorly concealed Molotov cocktails. Dr. Hossam Mahmoud(ph) voiced a common refrain among the marchers that the Islamists' foray into mainstream politics, which ended, in their view, with a military coup disguised as the will of the majority, has left them deeply, if not permanently, alienated.
DR. HOSSAM MAHMOUD: Actually, I'm very frustrated. Right now, we don't believe in justice, we don't believe in law, we don't believe in truth because it's changed by the illegal justice in our country. And if we express ourselves, they will kill us.
KENYON: As the swelling crowd moved toward Ramses Square, clouds of white teargas and darker smoke from burning tires filled the air in the distance, and shots rang out. Rashad Mohammad(ph), in black T-shirt and shades, points to a knot of armed plainclothes men causing a disturbance about 100 yards away. Some call them Baltagiya, which Mohammad translates as thugs.
RASHAD MOHAMMAD: What's going on now, there are some thugs under the bridge right there. They're not allowing people to bring either the injured or the dead to the hospitals, OK? Back in the day, the thugs were against the cops. Currently, the thugs are part of the police system, and that's really new.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: A nearby mosque has been turned into one of several field hospitals. The wounded are carried in, some to be rushed right back out in search of a real hospital. Others lie still under shrouds as the call goes out for doctors and medical supplies.
The violence was not one-sided. After police near Ramses Square opened fire, leaving what pro-Morsi groups called dozens of fatalities, some of the Molotov cocktails smuggled into the square were apparently put to use. Soon, a building adjacent to the police station was engulfed in flames, a scene which state television aired under the logo Egypt fights terrorism. Security officials followed up on that theme, saying that a Syrian and a Pakistani were among those arrested today.
Away from the demonstrations and clashes, life in Cairo goes on, and the passions of the protesters meet with more than a little skepticism. At a market in the Ataba neighborhood, 60-year-old Hussein Aatef(ph) took a phrase the Muslim Brotherhood members used to use against the Mubarak regime - they're only interested in holding on to their chairs - and turned it against the Brotherhood, accusing the group of putting its own political interests above the good of the country.
HUSSEIN AATEF: (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: The Muslim Brotherhood, they're killing people. They're killing Muslims. They're burning churches, he says. All this just for a chair?
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE ARGUING)
KENYON: On a bridge leading to the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek, a group of Morsi opponents from the self-described Popular Committee stand guard, waving clubs and baseball bats. One man carries a machete. They say a group of terrorists - meaning Morsi supporters - tried to cause trouble here, but they were driven out. These neighborhood watch groups sprang up during the unrest that toppled Hosni Mubarak two-and-a-half-years ago, and now they're back.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
KENYON: Several miles away in Nasr City, a reminder of earlier violence. A crowd gathered for one of the hundreds of funerals being staged for those killed in Wednesday's police operation against pro-Morsi sit-ins. Thirty-four-year-old Walid Mohsen(ph), who says he works in business development, summed up the bitter feelings that are gripping many Egyptians these days.
WALID MOHSEN: By all means, it was a horrible day, and I didn't imagine for a moment in my life that my military will kill me. I was shocked, and till now I'm shocked.
KENYON: Mohsen's shock was directed at the army, which most Egyptians are inclined to revere. But his feelings reflect the anger and helplessness voiced by people on all sides of this crisis as they watch their country slide toward chaos. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.