CAIRO — A man who sold eggs said the army had waited too long to attack the Islamists. An accountant said the police had stormed the protests with an efficiency he had not seen in years.
In the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba on Thursday, a teacher, Mohamed Abdul Hafez, said the hundreds of Islamists who died the day before mattered little to him.
"It's about the security of the country," Hafez said.
Egypt seemed more divided than ever after a brutal day of violence here that left hundreds dead. Supporters of the ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, mourned those killed, vowed revenge, planned their next moves. Many other Egyptians, though, directed their ire at the protesters who had camped out in the streets for weeks. For them, what occurred made sense.
"It was necessary," Akmal William, standing in his auto-detailing shop on Talaat Harb Street, said of the raid by soldiers and police officers. "They had to be strict."
From abroad came condemnations of what was widely seen as a disproportionate and ruthless attack. But many Egyptians viewed things differently, focusing on what they said were continuing threats from Morsi's supporters, who were frequently referred to as terrorists. In their view, the army was the only force standing in the Islamists' way. Between the parallel realities, others were torn between the claims of the security forces of violent demonstrators who threatened the country — a view parroted by the state news media — and what they heard from Islamist friends about how the violence on the streets had unfolded on Wednesday morning.
In Imbaba, a neighborhood that seems to catch all the nation's political currents in its congested alleyways, many people regretted the bloodshed. But they asserted that the alternative was worse. The Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi's political party, was holding back the country with endless sit-ins and protests, many said. And the longer the army waited to act, the weaker Egypt seemed to them.
That conviction only grew stronger amid alarming reports about Islamist violence, including the storming of a government building in Giza early Thursday. William, a Coptic Christian, was preoccupied by a spate of attacks on churches and Christian homes across the country, a spasm of collective scapegoating by some of Morsi's supporters.
"They won't go easily," he said, adding that churches "are still being burned."
Some people seemed to buy the state news media's propaganda. Others had arrived at their own conclusions about the need to act against Morsi and his supporters.
"I don't like conspiracy theories," said Ahmed Mustafa, 37, an accountant who sat in a cafe. "I'm against violence. I gave my vote to Morsi, and he disappointed me. They did things their way, and it was a false way."
The authorities acted responsibly Wednesday, he said, moving during daylight, so that "everything was obvious," rather than under the cover of darkness.
"We delegated them to fight terrorism," he said of the military. "And the Brotherhood wanted to show themselves as victims."
Openly, people praised the army. More quietly, some expressed doubts about the rush to support its assertion of authority after 2 1/2 years of popular protests aimed at transforming Egypt from an authoritarian government to a democracy.
"I don't know who is right and who is wrong," said Hassan Mahmoud, 27, who works in a bed store. "Some say the Brotherhood was shooting. Some say they were being shot."
Reflecting the confusion of many Egyptians, he added: "We don't know the truth. And we don't know where we are heading."