Egypt was seen less than three years ago as a potential wellspring of long-awaited Arab democracy. Now it appears to be falling apart.
Almost 1,000 people have been killed since last week in clashes between security forces, backed by the ruling military, and supporters of Mohammed Morsi, the first legitimately elected president in Egyptian history, who was ousted in July.
Experts on the Middle East say the situation on the ground is direly confusing for the Egyptian people, with questions over who is on the side of right and wrong, who is killing whom and who deserves support practically impossible to answer.
For Americans following the story from thousands of miles away, what the chaos on the ground may mean for the U.S. is confounding.
Here's a look at what is happening in Cairo, how America is involved and what it means for the U.S. relationship with Israel and U.S. security.
Which side are you on?
Egypt is caught in a cycle of violence, and no one seems to have much hope that it will end soon.
Egyptians are subjected daily to a portrayal by both state and private media that the military is fighting not political opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood but terrorists, one expert said. Individual families are divided about whom to support and blame.
"There's confusion as to who the good guys are and who the bad guys are," said Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, part of the Brookings Institution policy research center.
"The more dead there are on all sides, the more fear in the public, a political resolution may not even be possible," he said. "Egypt could be in for some serious instability for a while."
Human Rights Watch on Monday accused the Egyptian security forces of carrying out the worst unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history by firing on pro-Morsi supporters at a demonstration last week.
The rights organization pleaded with the military to rein in the police and stop making a bad situation worse by unnecessarily using lethal force. Containing the violence may be possible, but there is no sign of a political solution anytime soon.
The military could escalate the crackdown on the Brotherhood by banning it and outlawing its activities in all forms. That would raise questions about the future of political Islam in the country that gave birth to it.
Most analysts can not conceive of an Egyptian political scene without any type of Islamist representation in politics. The question is how will they convince Islamists to return to the political process.
To aid, or not to aid?
A growing number of lawmakers, Republican and Democratic alike, have urged the Obama administration to suspend the $1.5 billion in aid that the United States provides to Egypt every year, at least until the country is stabilized.
(Related video: We would regret cutting aid to Egypt: Pro)
The administration has been twisted into something of a linguistic pretzel because American law prohibits the continuation of aid to a country after a "coup." The White House has been careful not to use that word.
The Obama administration is considering suspending delivery of Apache helicopters that it has already agreed to sell to Egypt, and it has canceled joint military exercises with Egypt, but those measures are seen as mostly symbolic.