(CAIRO) -- The world is watching and waiting to see what will happen in Egypt after Wednesday's massive and deadly military crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters that could send the country spiraling into a Syria-like civil war. Reports vary wildly on the number of people killed and wounded when security police violently stormed two encampments of protesters in Cairo, with the government putting the death toll at more than 500 and the Brotherhood alleging more than 2,000 fatalities.
There were also clashes in Alexandria and other cities. By nightfall, Wednesday had turned out to be the deadliest day in Egypt since the end of the 2011 revolution that led to the ouster of then-President Hosni Mubarak after a three-decade rule.
What prompted the most recent violence was the army's reaction to the refusal by tens of thousands of demonstrators to leave the two camps until former President Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed last month, is returned to power.
While President Obama monitors the situation from his vacation perch in Martha's Vineyard, his administration issued a strong denunciation of the sudden and brutal crackdown by Egypt's interim government that may have irreparably harmed foreign diplomatic attempts to end the standoff peacefully.
Secretary of State John Kerry appeared at the State Department press briefing to call the ongoing violence in Cairo "a serious blow to reconciliation" and the police crackdown "deplorable."
Kerry added that all Egyptians need "to take a step back" and that further violence will not solve the conflict.
Cairo was relatively quiet overnight due to the state of emergency imposed by interim President Adli Mansour, a far cry from the earlier scenes of chaos that resulted when security officers came after the protesters with armored vehicles, bulldozers, tear gas and snipers.
Before Wednesday, the government said it would remove the demonstrators in a measured fashion, but instead, TV cameras caught scenes of mayhem and brutality. There were reports of people shot in the head and chest, while at least one person burned to death in his tent.
The severe police action did not go unreciprocated, with Brotherhood supporters pelting security with a barrage of rocks and Molotov cocktails and, in some instances, gunfire. Throughout Egypt, Islamists laid siege on police precincts with as many as 40 officers killed by angry mobs.
Meanwhile, the violence spread to Coptic Christian churches, with at least 18 set on fire. Many Islamists blame Christians for helping to fuel the military coup leading to Morsi’s ouster and incarceration.
The government’s assault on encampments triggered another unexpected crisis: the resignation of interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, who was brought in to assuage Islamist concerns that Egypt was turning into a police state.
ElBaradei, the one-time head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in his resignation letter to Mansour, “The beneficiaries of what happened today are the preachers of violence and terrorism, the most extremist groups and you will remember what I am telling you.”
As of now, it appears that Gen. Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, who engineered Morsi’s removal, is the real power in Egypt and will probably not accede to Western demands to ease up on demonstrators, who were already defying the overnight curfew by staging sit-ins throughout Cairo.
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