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Worry mounts in Egypt as protesters dig in heels

Story highlights

  • Egypt's prime minister acknowledges tough situation, says country isn't out of control
  • Civilians are in charge in Egypt, prime minister says
  • Officials to pro-Morsy protesters: End demonstrations or face "decisive decisions"
  • Military copters drop leaflets on protesters, warning them to steer clear of security forces

Tensions are running high in Egypt nearly a month after the July 3 ouster of Mohamed Morsy, the country's first democratically elected president. Here are five things to know about what's going on in the pivotal North African nation:

Anxiety is thick in Egypt amid government preparations to evict pro-Morsy demonstrators

Protesters demanding Morsy's return to power are camped out in an east Cairo neighborhood, saying they won't leave until Morsy is restored to power.

Meanwhile, those whose protests led to Morsy's ouster -- secularists and liberals -- find themselves aligned, at least in part, with the military-backed government.

Protests in Cairo and elsewhere have turned violent, with dozens killed Saturday in Cairo in clashes between demonstrators and security forces. And more violence is possible amid government warnings to pro-Morsy demonstrators to end their protests.

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The country isn't spiraling out of control, Interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi said Monday in an interview to be aired on CNN's "Amanpour."

    "The situation is tense of course," he said. "No one can dispute that we have a very difficult situation."

    But the government is merely trying to restore order after a month of chaotic demonstrations, he said.

    However, a Muslim Brotherhood coalition that opposes Morsy's ouster said those behind his removal are "threatening national security by dragging the Egyptian army into a conflict with the majority of Egyptians, and by involving the army in attacks on peaceful demonstrators, causing a breach between the people and their army."

    Opinion: Morsy a victim of Egypt's revolution of the mind

    "Who is in charge?" is not necessarily a simple question to answer

    Since taking power from Morsy on July 3, Egypt's military has installed an interim civilian government with Adly Mansour as interim president. He issued a decree giving himself some legislative power and outlining a path toward new elections.

    But Egypt's generals still wield significant power. For instance, last week it was Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the country's defense minister, not the president, who called for mass protests in support of the military, asking supporters to provide a "referendum to take firm action against violence and terrorism."

    El-Beblawi said he believes the civilian government is calling the shots.

    "As far as I am concerned, I feel very much in charge with my council of ministers, and I haven't seen any indication or any sign from anyone to tell me what to be done," he told CNN's Hala Gorani. "The moment I feel that the civilian government is besieged, I will put in my resignation."

    Morsy remains out of sight

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    He hasn't been seen publicly since the military forced him from office.

    The state-run EGYNews reported Sunday that an Egyptian delegation granted permission to visit him said he is being held at an undisclosed military facility along with his chief of staff and his secretary.

    El-Beblawi didn't elaborate Monday on Morsy's location, but said he is being well cared for and detained in part for his own safety. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top diplomat, was expected to meet him during her visit to Egypt Monday, El-Beblawi said.

    The former president is being held in relation for a jailbreak that took place during Egypt's 2011 revolution but well before he came to power, state media reported.

    Prosecutors have said the escape of Morsy and 18 other Brotherhood members, among others, was plotted by "foreign elements" including Hamas, the Islamic Palestinian Army and Hezbollah.

    Morsy, who local media reports say was in prison for a single day without any formal charges against him, is accused of escaping, destroying the prison's official records and intentionally killing and abducting police officers and prisoners.

    The international community is worried

    Rights groups and international leaders are concerned about the violence that's already occurred, and the threat of more.

    Human Rights Watch on Sunday accused the government of intentionally killing protesters. The rights group says it based its assessment on witness interviews and video footage that in some cases appeared to show security forces shooting to kill.

    "The use of deadly fire on such a scale so soon after the interim president announced the need to impose order by force suggests a shocking willingness by the police and by certain politicians to ratchet up violence against pro-Morsy protesters," Nadim Houry, the group's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement. "It is almost impossible to imagine that so many killings would take place without an intention to kill, or at least a criminal disregard for people's lives."

    Ashton is visiting Egypt on Monday, hoping to help quell the violence.

    "I am going to Egypt to speak to all sides and to reinforce our message that there must be a fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood," Ashton said in a statement." This process must lead -- as soon as possible -- to constitutional order, free and fair elections and a civilian-led government. I will also repeat my call to end all violence. I deeply deplore the loss of life."

    On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talked with Egypt's interim vice president and foreign minister, expressing the administration's concern about the violence.

    "This is a pivotal moment for Egypt," Kerry said in a statement Saturday. "Over two years ago, the revolution began. Its final verdict is not decided, but it will be forever impacted by what happens now."

    Things could get uglier

    The government is threatening to break up demonstrations in what could well be another bloody confrontation between demonstrators and security forces.

    On Sunday, Mansour, Egypt's interim president, issued a powder-keg decree making preparations for a possible "state of emergency," the EGYnews website reported.

    "State of emergency" is a loaded term in Egypt, where former President Hosni Mubarak ruled for 30 years under an emergency decree that barred unauthorized assembly, restricted freedom of speech and allowed police to jail people indefinitely.

    However, Mansour's spokesman, Ahmed El Meslemani, said Monday in a televised news conference that the government has no plans to declare emergency law.

    Still, the National Defense Council has issued a stern warning to protesters backing Morsy to end their protests or face "decisive decisions" for violating the law, and El-Beblawi said the government cannot stand by while protesters disrupt normal routines.

    On Monday, Military helicopters dropped leaflets on pro-Morsy protesters in Rabaa al-Adawiya and appealed for them not to approach military installations and units, EGYnews said.

    "We call on everyone to cooperate and respond to the instructions of the armed forces personnel in order for the security and stability of the country. No violence. Do not sabotage. No bloodshed," the leaflets read.

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