Egypt’s army-backed government declared a state of emergency and clamped a curfew on large parts of the country after security forces stormed Islamist protest camps, leaving at least 149 dead.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate, resigned as vice president, saying he didn’t want to bear responsibility for “bloodshed that could have been avoided,” according to a statement from his office. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood group leading the protests to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Mursi occupied the Finance Ministry and were holding hostages, and parts of the building were on fire, state media reported. Egypt’s main stock index posted the biggest drop among global benchmarks.
The government announced a monthlong state of emergency after armed police hurling tear gas charged into two Cairo squares that Mursi’s supporters had occupied weeks earlier to protest his overthrow by the military. Officials said almost 150 people were killed nationwide, while the Muslim Brotherhood said the toll was many times higher. At least two foreign journalists and the daughter of a Brotherhood leader were among the dead.
Authorities later rounded up eight Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Essam El-Erian, vice-chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, security official Yasser Abdel-Raouf said by phone.
The Obama administration said it opposes the imposition of emergency rule and “strongly condemns” the crackdown.
The state of emergency was effective from 4 p.m. local time today, according to a statement from the presidency read out on state television. The curfew will apply in 14 of the country’s two dozen provinces including Cairo, Giza and Alexandria between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., and anyone breaking it will be jailed, the cabinet said in an e-mailed statement.
The presidency said a state of emergency was necessary because security was threatened by “deliberate acts of sabotage, attacks on public and private installations, and the killing of citizens by elements of the extremist groups.”
The explosion of violence was the worst in the series of confrontations between security forces and Islamists that followed the army’s July 3 intervention to topple Mursi. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies vowed to maintain the demonstrations until he is restored to office. The military-backed interim government had warned it wouldn’t tolerate the sit-ins indefinitely, describing them as a threat to security.
Security forces hurled tear gas in the encampments as they moved in, and helicopters hovered overhead. Video footage on Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya showed armed, black-clad police seizing ammunition and weapons from the protest camps. Black smoke billowed from the sit-in areas and Brotherhood supporters were shown wearing gas masks.
Mursi supporters tried to regroup in another square in Giza, outside central Cairo, where police again intervened. Aly Gneidy, 46, said he went there “to defend my rights and my vote, that al-Seesi has trampled on.”
“I will remain here until legitimacy is restored,” he said, a mask wrapped around his neck. “I pray to God to make me a martyr for the sake of my religion and my country that is being hijacked. This is a war on Islam.”
Egypt is moving “further and further from a democratic process and closer to an officers’ republic, a state dominated by armed institutions,” said Omar Ashour, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter in the U.K. “It’s going to be a very bloody phase in the coming weeks.”
Before today’s raid, U.S. and European diplomats had failed to bridge the gap in talks with army chief Abdelfatah al-Seesi and Islamist leaders.
“Violence will only make it more difficult to move Egypt forward on a path to lasting stability and democracy, and runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation,” U.S. deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement from Martha’s Vineyard where President Barack Obama is vacationing.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, urged restraint and an “inclusive process of political reconciliation.”
ElBaradei said he was stepping down because there were “peaceful ways to end this social clash.” Tamarud, the movement that initiated the nationwide protests that ousted Mursi, denounced his resignation as an “escape from responsibility.”
The EGX 30 stock index dropped 1.7 percent at the close in Cairo. The yield on Eurobonds due in 2020 jumped 44 basis points to 8.77 percent at 5:30 p.m. in Cairo.
Political tensions have undermined the interim government’s prospects of reviving Egypt’s economy, which has been growing at the slowest pace in two decades since the uprising against Hosni Mubarak in 2011, as foreign investors and tourists stay away.
Police arrested 200 armed members of the Brotherhood as they cleared the Cairo sit-ins, the official Middle East News Agency reported. Mohamed el-Beltagy, a leading Brotherhood official, said his daughter was among those killed.
Clashes broke out across Egypt from Alexandria on the Mediterranean to Aswan near the southern border, including several attacks on churches. Some Islamists have accused Christians of backing what they say was a coup against Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected civilian leader.