Nightly News   |  August 19, 2013

In Egypt, ‘we have lost the joy of life’

There is deep tension and mistrust in Cairo, but most Egyptians who spoke with NBC News said they agree with the military’s actions. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> out-of-control situation in egypt . word of two awful massacres there and an increasingly precarious situation for the united states . forcing defense secretary chuck haig toll admit today there is not much the u.s. can do. our chief foreign correspondent, richard engel , joins us once again tonight from cairo . richard?

>> reporter: good evening, lester. secretary hagel says this is, after all, a sovereign nation and it's up to egyptians to sort this out. egyptian officials we spoke to today say they don't believe washington has an accurate picture of what's going on here. egypt 's government says this tragic scene is what the world doesn't understand about its controversial crackdown. the remains flown to cairo tonight of 25 policemen, executed in the sinai this morning. the government says they were unarmed and off duty, victims of suspected islamic extremists .

>> it's a very mean act of terror. it's something that happens every day. worst part about it that it's incomprehensible for an egyptian.

>> reporter: a presidential adviser says the muslim brotherhood has unleashed terrorists under the guise of defending democracy.

>> they are trying to portray to people that this is a political dispute. this is the result of having ousted the president and those are people defending their own political views .

>> reporter: in cairo , there's now detention and mistrust. most shops closed even before the night time curfew. we have lost the joy of life. we are afraid. we are all depressed, said one woman. even so, one of the few cafes still open, egyptians told us they agreed with the military's actions.

>> not the best situation in egypt , but i think we are going through a transitional period. we are fighting, but not against islam.

>> reporter: many say washington, before it cuts aid you can should remember that millions took to the streets last june to call on the army to expel the elected president, mohamed morsi for trying to impose an islamic agenda. but human rights group say the army has taken what it considers to be a green light too far. in refrigerated trucks today were the bodies of 36 prisoners, suffocated by tear gas police fired into a locked vehicle. the government says these muslim brotherhood supporters were trying to escape. and in another twist, a cairo court today ordered the release of egypt 's former president hosni mubarak . his lawyer says he could be out this week, but it seems unlikely.

>> richard engel who has been on the ground from the start of this current crisis