CAIRO — With astonishing speed, Egypt has moved from a nation in crisis to a nation in real danger of slipping into a prolonged bout of violence or even civil war.
Egypt has become increasingly polarized since the Islamists rose to power following the 2011 revolution that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Fault lines touching key and potentially explosive issues like identity, the rights of Christians and other minorities, and democratic values have never been greater.
The Muslim Brotherhood and their hard-line allies stand at one end of a bitter standoff with secularists, liberals, moderate Muslims and Christians.
That schism grew after President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader, was ousted in a July 3 military coup. But it was Wednesday's deadly police raids — with armored bulldozers and security forces plowing through two protest camps — that will be remembered as a turning point when what had been primarily a political standoff erupted into bloodshed.
"The spark of civil war is out," wrote Islamist columnist and author Fahmy Howeidy in Thursday's edition of the independent al-Shorouk daily. "The nation is on the edge of an abyss."
Adding to the mix is the branding by the state media of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and allies as "terrorists" and growing calls for authorities to take a tougher approach on the Islamists.
In a glimpse of what may be in store for the most populous Arab state, dozens of revenge attacks and clashes spilled over into a second day Thursday in Cairo and other cities — showing the capability of Islamists to strike and laying bare the depth of their anger over Morsi's ouster and the crackdown that left hundreds dead.
Angry young men attacked government and security buildings, setting some ablaze, cut off roads, damaged or torched dozens of churches and stormed more than 20 police stations.
In one particularly gruesome attack, four officers in a police station just outside Cairo were killed after the building was shelled with rocket-propelled grenades. The assailants then slit the police chief's throat, a brutality reminiscent of an Islamist, anti-government insurgency that raged in Egypt in the 1990s before Mubarak used force to suppress it, killing and jailing thousands of Islamists.
In response, the government authorized police Thursday to use deadly force against anyone attacking security forces or government installations.
While the international community largely condemned the overwhelming use of force to clear out the camps on Wednesday, the military-backed administration's fight against the Brotherhood so far has been supported by many Egyptians, who are mainly Muslim but object to hard-liners.
"The army and the police will strike hard and ordinary people will be supportive," prominent rights lawyer and activist Gamal Eid said.
To such observers, it is beyond doubt that a majority of Egyptians supports going after the Brotherhood and its hard-line allies.
Millions took to the streets for days prior to the July 3 coup to call on Morsi to step down, angry over what they saw as efforts to monopolize power for himself and the Brotherhood, failure to implement crucial social and economic reforms and his public quarrels with the judiciary, the media, the military and police.
A backlash against Mohammed ElBaradei's decision to resign as interim vice president to protest the violence illustrated how widespread is the antipathy to the Brotherhood and its allies. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former director of the U.N. nuclear agency said he quit because he did not want to be held responsible for bloodshed.
A front-page editorial in the state-owned al-Akhbar daily on Thursday said ElBaradei's resignation "amounts to a breach of his position and, consequently, is a case of treason that should not be allowed to pass without accountability."
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