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'No sympathy': Egyptians divided in wake of violent clashes

Sandwich shop owner Ashraf Shaaban does not think the Egyptian military should attempt reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. Ziad Jaber / NBC News

CAIRO – Arrest warrants were issued for leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Wednesday as recriminations continued following violent clashes that left 53 dead – underlining the country’s visceral political divisions.

The country’s prosecutor-general ordered the detention of the organization’s leader, Mohamed Badie, and 11 others on charges of inciting violence in the wake of Monday’s shootings, state media reported.

The clashes, which also left more than 400 wounded, sent shockwaves throughout Egypt in the early days following the country’s violent upheaval. It was one of Egypt’s deadliest days since the 2011 revolution.

On Tuesday, Egyptian authorities announced they were questioning at least 650 people, most of them supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, over their suspected involvement in the case. More than 400 have since been released.

In passionate, yet dueling, press conferences Monday, both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood argued their respective cases for what transpired in those bloody early morning hours.

Claiming its Republican Guard barracks had come under attack by armed "terrorists,” the military said it did what "any other country" would have done under similar circumstances, citing its right to defend military buildings.

Student Peter Maher is disappointed that El-Baradei was not named Egypt's prime minister. Ziad Jaber / NBC News

But the Brotherhood called the incident a "massacre," saying scores of Morsi supporters were mowed down unprovoked as they were finishing morning prayers.

In Cairo’s Zamalek neighborhood, across the Nile about a mile from Tahrir Square, residents showed little sympathy for the Brotherhood’s casualties.

"I feel bad that people were killed, but the military has the right to protect itself," said Peter Maher. The 19-year-old college student said he reviewed the evidence presented by both sides. "If you’re going to go protest peacefully, why go with guns?"

The military supplied video of alleged gunmen with automatic rifles firing on the military headquarters Monday. The Brotherhood provided video as well, theirs purporting to show military snipers firing on Morsi supporters from rooftops.

The timing of the event also left some skeptical.

"It’s very difficult to know the truth. Each side says it’s the other side’s fault. At the end of the day, people died," said Milad Azzet, a 27-year-old schoolteacher. "I’m happy the Muslim Brothers aren’t in power anymore, but having said that, I don’t want people to die."

Others were more cynical. "I have no sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Miran Raaft, a 20-year-old college student. "The military practiced the utmost restraint," she said. "The Muslim Brotherhood was trying to stage this for a human rights outrage."

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The Brotherhood’s downfall has been warmly welcomed by three rich Arab monarchies eager to prop up Egypt’s shaky transitional government – and undermine their regional Islamist rivals. Kuwait promised Egypt $4 billion in cash, loans and fuel, while Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion, and the United Arab Emirates offered $3 billion.

Even with the start of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, which requires Muslims to fast from dawn til dusk, the Brotherhood continued its sit-in in the shadow of Cairo’s Rabia Al-Adawiya mosque, while bloodstained Egyptian flags waved defiantly in the hot summer breeze.

The Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, warned the international community that the shootings could launch Egypt on a very dangerous path. In a statement posted on the group’s website, they called on "the free world to intervene to stop further massacres and reveal the truth about military rule so we should not have another Syria catastrophe in the Arab world.”

The military-backed interim President Adly Mansour announced a new civilian cabinet Tuesday. Mansour tapped liberal economist and former finance minister Hazem el-Biblawi to head the cabinet and Western-favorite Mohammad ElBaradei was appointed vice president of foreign relations.

Maher, the 19-year-old student, was disappointed with the appointments. "I think ElBaradei would have been the best thing for Egypt. He has a vision. He has a world view."

Ashraf Shaaban, a conservative 45-year-old Muslim restaurant owner in Zamalek, said he was never a fan of ElBaradei to begin with.

"I don’t support El-Baradei or anyone raised in America for prime minister of Egypt,” he said, puffing a cigarette on the sidewalk outside his sandwich shop. "I personally want someone like [former President Hosni] Mubarak…I wish Sisi would take Mubarak’s place,” he said, referring to Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, head of Egypt’s armed services. “Sisi drank from the Nile. He’s a man who loves Egypt.”

The military contends it hopes to reconcile with the Brotherhood, something Shaaban did not think was possible.

"The military believes it can reconcile with such a group, but I don’t think that can happen," he said. "Once you’re bloodthirsty, you’ll always be bloodthirsty.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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