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Cairo: The violence that exploded across Egypt on Wednesday had an air of inevitability about it – a "not if but when" scenario.
The country's all-powerful and widely popular military appears determined to rid Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood, first from government at the behest of hundreds of thousands of protesters who took to the streets on June 28 to call for an end to Mohamed Mursi's presidency, and then from the protest camps its supporters had established at two key sites in Cairo.
But the scale and brutality of Wednesday's massacre and the decision to enforce a month-long state of emergency complete with night-time curfew has left little doubt that behind the facade of Egypt's interim, civilian government stands the charismatic army leader General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
It's a realisation that will leave the country's liberals more than a little uneasy about how far and how fast the military has reasserted itself into political life here, just two-and-a-half years after Egypt emerged from the tyranny of Hosni Mubarak's decades-long rule.
In a statement that must ring alarm bells for those who participated in the January 25, 2011, revolution against Egypt's brutal police state, the interim interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim said on Wednesday night after the day's violence: “I promise … as soon as possible, security will be restored to this nation as if it was before January 25, and more.”
But there are dangers for the military, too – in a country already so deeply polarised, it is incredibly risky to use its renewed popularity to encourage this wave of sectarian violence that pits Egyptian against Egyptian.
The mood is so darkly anti-Muslim Brotherhood after its disastrous year in power that it appears, in some segments of the community at least, that there is little sorrow at the military's violent actions against Mursi's supporters that have left at least 421 dead and more than 3000 wounded.
In turn, there has been a spike in violence against Christians, with houses, shops and churches burned throughout the country, particularly in Upper Egypt.
Islamists are blaming them for Mursi's overthrow, but instead of protecting the Coptic community, it seems the army is standing back and allowing the violence to occur.
It is split, upon split, upon split and it is difficult to see how the clashes will subside and the much-needed national reconciliation talks can begin.
As Egypt's deputy interim prime minister Mohamed ElBaradei said in announcing his resignation from the government overnight: “Those who gain from what happened today are those who call for violence and terror, the extremist groups.”
And as each day passes, Egypt's economic crisis deepens. Gulf countries injected a much-needed emergency $US12 billion into the coffers but that will only go so far.
The state of emergency feeds into this and the millions of Egyptians who live below the poverty line – on less than $US2 ($2.18) a day – bear the brunt of ever-worsening economic conditions.
It is light years away from the aims of the January 25 revolution – bread, freedom and justice – and that may be the real test for the military's enduring popularity.
It may be able to lock down a country, but can it feed its people?