As casualties soared into the thousands following the deadliest day since the Arab Spring began, Egyptians in Pittsburgh grappled Thursday with the complicated political realities of their homeland.
At least 638 people were confirmed dead and nearly 4,000 wounded after security forces -- backed by armored vehicles, snipers and bulldozers -- smashed the two sit-ins in Cairo where supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi had been camped out for six weeks, demanding his reinstatement.
"No one can sugar-coat this: It was a peaceful sit-in," said Alaa Shalaby, an Egyptian-born cardiologist who lives in O'Hara.
World condemnation widened Thursday for the bloody crackdown on Mr. Morsi's mostly Islamist supporters. It was the deadliest day by far since the 2011 uprising that overthrew autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak and plunged the country into more than two years of instability.
Dr. Shalaby, who has lived in the U.S. since 1991, said the last few days in Egypt have only cemented his view that democratization isn't around the corner.
"This is abhorrent and extremely shocking, but at the end of the day it's not a surprise," he said of the rising death toll. "This is how an authoritarian military police state will react to its own citizens."
Dr. Shalaby doesn't defend Mr. Morsi's leadership, but he argues the now-ousted president faced fierce opposition, fueled ironically by the promise of deeper democratic institutions.
"But when it was all said and done he was the elected president."
Though he is resistant to the narrative that Egyptian politics can be neatly divided between the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of the military, Dr. Shalaby admits that opinion is split.
"It's true that there are people who felt it was OK to kill civilians the way they were killed," he said, but added, "You cannot support a dictatorial regime and say it will lead us to democracy."
No matter the political outcome, Dr. Shalaby said, the only way forward is to recognize that destroying political opponents won't work.
"All of these people are there to stay. Anyone who thinks they can crush one side and eliminate them from society is wrong. The Brotherhood has been around for 100 years, and they've always come back."
But to Ismail Sallam, who has lived locally and in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have adapted the ideology of terrorist groups.
"They don't care about life or death. [Egyptians] have never been subjected to this before."
Dr. Sallam said he doesn't affiliate with any political group or party, adding, "I am with whoever will do goodness for the group." And goodness for Egypt, he said, means an election.
"This is going to be a good lesson every president who comes after Morsi," he said. "They will listen to the people, and that would be a major change."
Mina Abadier, an Egyptian citizen who works in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said the situation in Egypt is changing rapidly because the nation has never really had democracy.
"In the beginning of the democratic process, a lot should change in people's minds first, and then the country can move forward."
Increases of literacy rates and religious tolerance are both necessary for democracy to take hold there, Mr. Abadier said.
"The situation right now in Egypt is complicated, but is the result of too many mistakes over 21/2 years," he said.
A solution lies in building a constitution first and then filling the roles of parliament and the president.
The country also needs national reconciliation -- a Nelson Mandela figure, even -- Mr. Abadier said. "The only way to achieve that is through politics, not through violence."