Middle East

Q&A: Egypt in turmoil

A poster of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi is pictured in front of rising smoke

Egypt finds itself in another period of bloodshed and political uncertainty. On 14 August two camps in Cairo were broken up by security forces, killing hundreds of supporters of the ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Dozens of security personnel also died in Egypt's bloodiest day since the pro-democracy uprising two years ago ejected long-time president Hosni Mubarak. Fresh clashes have followed between protesters and security forces.

How has the latest crisis unfolded?

Early on the morning of 14 August, security forces moved in to clear two protest camps outside Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque and in Nahda Square in the west of the city.

The two sites had been occupied by supporters of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, who was removed from office by the military on 3 July after mass street protests against him.

More than 600 people were killed in the operation to clear the camps, according to the authorities. The Muslim Brotherhood, which backs the protests, put the number of deaths at more than 2,000.

The move sparked international condemnation and the resignation of Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei, a prominent liberal politician.

The new military-backed government has also announced a month-long state of emergency, giving security forces wider powers of arrest and imposing a nightly curfew.

However, the Brotherhood called for further protests to condemn the operation, and on 16 August more than 170 people were killed in clashes centred around Cairo's Ramses Square.

Many reprisal attacks by Islamists on Coptic Christian churches have also been reported since 14 August, as Copts have been accused by some Islamists of being a major force behind Mr Morsi's removal.

Activists have also pointed out that no security was provided to Coptic churches, even though a sectarian backlash had been widely predicted.

What led up to the current instability?

During his first year in office, Mr Morsi fell out with key institutions and sectors of society, and was seen by many Egyptians as doing little to tackle economic and social problems.

Egypt became polarised between his Islamist supporters and his opponents, who include leftists, liberals and secularists.

On 30 June millions took to the streets to mark the first anniversary of the president's inauguration, in a protest organised by the Tamarod (Revolt) movement.

The protests prompted the military to warn Mr Morsi on 1 July that it would intervene and impose its own "roadmap" if he did not satisfy the public's demands within 48 hours. As the deadline approached, Mr Morsi insisted that he was Egypt's legitimate leader.

Late on 3 July the head of the armed forces, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, announced that the constitution had been suspended and that Chief Justice Adly Mansour would oversee an interim period with a technocratic government until presidential and parliamentary elections were held.

Several of Egypt's most influential figures gave their approval to the ousting of Mohammed Morsi. They included Egypt's highest Islamic authority, the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar; the head of the Christian Coptic Church; Mr ElBaradei; and the hard-line Salafist Nour party.

Mr Morsi's supporters denounced what they called a military coup, and held daily rallies demanding his re-instatement, as well as establishing the two camps that were subsequently broken up.

Even before the move to clear the camps, more than 250 people had been killed in demonstrations and confrontations with the security forces, most of them supporters of Mr Morsi.

Anti-Morsi protesters also took to the streets. Gen Sisi encouraged them to turn out on 26 July to give the army a "mandate to confront possible violence and terrorism".

What has happened to Mr Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Since he was ousted, Mr Morsi has been under arrest at an undisclosed location, accused of plotting attacks on jails during the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak.

Several other senior figures from the Muslim Brotherhood were also detained after Mr Morsi's removal, including the movement's second-in-command and strongman, Khairat al-Shater.

Its leader, supreme guide Mohammed Badie, was detained on 20 August after having been in hiding for several weeks and temporarily replaced by his deputy Mahmoud Ezzat. Both Mr Badie and Mr Shater are accused of inciting violence.

More than 1,000 people have been detained in raids against Brotherhood members since the 14 August operation. Interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi has raised the possibility of the Brotherhood being legally dissolved.

The organisation was banned by Egypt's military rulers in 1954, but registered itself as a non-governmental organisation in March.

What will happen now?

Interim President Adly Mansour laid out plans for a political transition leading to elections in early 2014. The plan also included a review of the constitution which had been backed by Mr Morsi. The plan was rejected by the Muslim Brotherhood and also criticised by some leftist and liberal parties.

Gen Sisi has promised "not to exclude anyone or any movement" and called for measures to "empower youths and integrate them in state institutions".

However, given the current official campaign against the Brotherhood, it is not clear to what extent - if at all - it would be able to take part in any re-launched political process.

The military has now entrenched its position as the most powerful government entity, and many say it operates like a state within a state. Military-owned businesses make up a significant proportion of Egypt's economy.

Many activists have expressed fears that the military may use the crisis to restore oppressive aspects of the Mubarak regime, citing attacks on journalists and the increasing intolerance of criticism of the army.

Some have speculated that Gen Sisi may want to move into politics and run for the presidency - every president except Mr Morsi for the past 60 years has come from the military. Gen Sisi has said in a recent interview with the Washington Post that he has no interest in a presidential bid, but refused to rule it out.