CAIRO -- Almost a thousand people dead, dozens of churches burnt, its capital's most affluent districts subjected to raging firefights: Even in a region all too accustomed to conflicts of unrelenting savagery, Egypt's past week has stood out.
It wasn't meant to be like this, of course.
The last time this many foreign journalists decamped to Cairo, they witnessed millions clamoring for the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime.
But Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolutionaries' efforts, is blocked off now, with tanks, armored personnel carriers, and double coils of rusty barbed wire strung across its approach roads. It's an apt metaphor for Egypt's withered revolution.
Last time, we, the West, rooted passionately for the beleaguered masses battling the brutal police state, cheering their demands for "bread, freedom, and social justice," and interpreting their triumph as evidence of democracy's irresistible allure.
This time, however, we have no one to root for.
The security forces, Muslim Brotherhood, and partisans of both sides have all engaged in the bloodshed while seeking to tar their opponents as inhuman.
In the battle for the country's soul, it's "terrorists" vs. "murderers" in the language of Egypt's bitterly polarized political players.