Turmoil continued in Egypt Monday as officials said Hosni Mubarak, the country’s former autocrat, could be freed on bond in days. Months of relative calm since the revolt that ousted Mubarak in 2011 ended last week in violence between the current government and Islamist supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi, who lost power in a coup last month.

Over the weekend, government forces in Cairo took control of a mosque where Morsi’s supporters had barricaded themselves:

On Saturday, the standoff at al-Fateh mosque erupted suddenly into a prolonged gunfight, the chaos and panic spilling into side streets and the wider neighborhood as security forces opened fire and shots were returned from the mosque’s minaret and windows. The protesters, including medical personnel and the wounded, had on Friday taken refuge in the mosque from gunfire outside in Ramses Square on a day of widespread violence that left at least 230 people dead nationwide.

The number of dead, which has steadily mounted since security forces raided the pro-Morsi protest camps Wednesday, has deepened fears of a slide toward full-blown civil conflict in this already deeply divided nation.

Egypt’s government said Friday’s death toll included 57 members of the police, and it said it was considering measures to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood. The group was banned, and regularly repressed, under the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. . . .

In the early afternoon Saturday, before the fighting broke out, soldiers had negotiated a safe exit for some of those trapped inside the mosque. But those trying to flee, mostly small groups of women, and the troops escorting them had to navigate through an angry mob of people, many of whom said they wanted to “get to” the “terrorists” inside. Some carried sticks and knives.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is inside, and the people are outside, trying to get in,” said Adel, a paramedic who stood by with an ambulance team and gave only his first name, to avoid harassment in the tense area.

The previous day, armed vigilantes known as Popular Committees had joined police and army troops in seeking to quell demonstrations.

Hani Nawara, a former assistant to the minister of health under Morsi, was among those who had taken refuge in the mosque overnight and managed to get out Saturday afternoon. Soldiers escorted him and another doctor out, Nawara said. But the only reason they made it past the mob alive was because “we didn’t have beards.” Others, he said, were arrested promptly by the military.

Abigail Hauslohner, Liz Sly, and Sharaf al-Hourani

In the Sinai Peninsula Monday, unknown attackers killed a group of 25 police cadets, a day after police killed three dozen of Morsi’s supporters:

The police recruits were returning from leave to their jobs near the border with Israel. Gunmen ordered them out of two minibuses and forced them to lie on the ground before shooting them, officials told the Associated Press.

The police officers were dressed in civilian clothes, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

The 36 people who were killed Sunday were detained at demonstrations in support of Morsi. Egyptian authorities said the prisoners died during an attempted jailbreak.

The two incidents highlighted the instability that has spread through Egypt since the removal of Morsi, the country’s first elected president. Morsi was forced from power six weeks ago, after massive demonstrations against him.

Since then, Islamist militants have stepped up their attacks on the military and police forces stationed in the Sinai. Shootings of security forces have become a near-daily occurrence, even as political violence has engulfed other parts of the country and police and security forces have launched a lethal crackdown on pro-Morsi demonstrators.

Mary Beth Sheridan and Liz Sly

In the United States, lawmakers are debating whether the U.S. should suspend foreign aid to Egypt’s government. The European Union is considering its diplomatic options as well. Max Fisher argues that the United States should not have refused to call Morsi’s removal from power a coup, a classification that would have resulted in suspension of aid:

Back in early July, as debate raged in Washington over whether or not the United States should label the Egyptian military’s July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi a “coup,” a political scientist named Clayton Thyne did something most of us hadn’t considered: he looked at the empirical evidence.

In a post on the academic group blog The Monkey’s Cage, Thyne summarized past research on coups and post-coup governments, based on an examination of 205 coups from 1951 to 2004. He found, as I explained at the time, that coup governments tend to hang on to power longer and make the transition to democracy more slowly when they have support from foreign states and international organizations. What he termed “negative support” – in other words, criticism, for example by labeling the military takeover as a coup – actually seems to make a transition to democracy faster and more likely.

At the time, way back on July 10 when no one was sure how the military-led government would behave, this is the conclusion I reached from Thyne’s research: How the United States and other international groups respond to the July 3 coup could play a highly significant role on how this political transition unfolds, what sort of government it leads to and when. . . .

The United States did not call what happened a coup. It privately communicated to the military government that it should not crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, but it exerted little or no public pressure.

Since then, the Egyptian military-led government has behaved counter to any democratic aspirations, violently assaulting pro-Morsi sit-ins, arresting key Brotherhood members and arguing on state TV that the protesters are terrorists who must be forced off of the streets. That and the imposition of “emergency law” have been clear steps in the direction of authoritarianism.

Max Fisher

For continuing coverage of the crisis in Egypt, visit WorldViews.