Reconstructing Maspero's Bloody Sunday: An Ahram Online investigation
On 9 October 2011, 28 protesters were killed as they marched on Egypt's state TV building. In a two-part timeline, Ahram Online investigates eyewitness accounts that shed light on the night's horrific sequence of events
Yassin Gaber , Tuesday 1 Nov 2011
Egyptian military clashes with protesters in Maspero, Cairo on 9 October (Photo: Reuters)
Close up of the Maspero district
Map of Maspero district
The following is an attempt to concisely document and best chronicle the bloody events of 9 October in as accurate a manner as possible, considering the amount of time that has elapsed, the concerted attempt at whitewashing the scene of events and the reluctance of many to speak on the matter. The sudden descent into bloodshed and the horrific scenes which ensued, after what had, to a large extent, been a successful display of solidarity and amity, sent many involved into a state of shock. The pandemonium which erupted between 6:15 and 6:45pm and the large exodus from 8pm onwards toward Tahrir Square and adjacent sections of downtown Cairo has also made it hard to collect accurate testimonies.
Several of the links below are to videos and photographs which have been included to give the reader a better understanding of the night's atmophsere and to serve as visual aides.
As one protester stated: “It is unthinkable that anyone stopped to stare at his or her watch as shots rained down on them and they ran for their lives.” With this in mind, this timeline starts at 3pm and ends at around 8pm. Thereafter, my colleague's timeline will follow the transition of protesters to Abdel Moniem Riad Square, Tahrir Square and the neighbouring areas.
3-3:30pm: Protesters begin to gather at Egypt’s state television and radio building (Maspero), protesting “the authorities’ failure to investigate the burning of a church in Marinab in the southern governorate of Aswan” (HRW report). State run TV has consistently been the target of protests due to wide spread disapproval of its coverage and editorial policies. In short, it is considered an arm of the regime.
A march - approved by the government and the military - would begin in Shubra and proceed to Maspero, ending at 7pm according to the 4 October memo.
4pm: An Ahram Online reporter reaches Shubra Square where “around 3,000 had already gathered.” The march begins.
4-5pm: According to several of our reporters, the march was very peaceful, proceeding at a markedly slow pace. “People walked peacefully, holding flowers, crosses and singing Christian hymns. There were lots of priests there as well: some of whom stood in the beds of pick-up trucks with microphones and speakers,” stated an Ahram Online reporter.
Lina El Wardani tweets: Priest at march thanks Muslims for supporting the coptic march and says this is an Egyptian march #shubra
“A rope, held up by protesters, surrounded marchers as well as human shields - interlocking arms - to protect the women, children and elderly. Within half an hour, the chants turned against [de-facto ruler Field Marshal Hussein]Tantawi,” Ahram Online's correspondent at the march recalls.
4:45-5pm: Candles are handed out to protesters in front of Maspero and a row of them stand along Corniche El-Nil Street, holding their candles in a show of peacefulness.
“Big buses” belonging to the army begin arriving every 10 minutes, fielding in soldiers. At one point the military extended from 15 May Bridge to 6 October Bridge, according to several participants. One protester remarked, “I’d been to protests a million times, but I’d never seen such high ranks.”
5pm: A large poster of the field marshal is set alight, according to Ahram Online's reporter. The protesters chanted at the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] “We thought you would unite us, but you actually divided us.” Several of our correspondents mention a man holding a cross dressed in a military jacket.
5:15pm: “There were around 500-700 people gathered around the pergola. Several stood on top, chanting; they weren’t just Christian chants. We weren’t blocking the streets at the point,” a participant stated.
Several other participants describe the following scene: The protesters were gathered around the island on which the pergola stood, to the left of the state TV building. Across the street, on the divider, stood dozens of military police and to the right of them dozens of soldiers dressed in riot gear. On the opposite side of the Corniche El-Nil Street, the main street on which Maspero lies, were a couple of army jeeps, a large Central Security Forces (CSF) box truck, another civilian bus, around four army personnel carriers (APCs) and a row of senior ranking officers.
In front of the state TV building, were around three to four APCs and dozens of soldiers in riot gear. Around 10-15 CSF box trucks waited further down the corniche underneath 6 October Bridge.
Several protesters described how many of the protesters and the miliary standing near the demonstration were “chatty: offering each other cigarettes and water.” Many times protesters would push back towards the pavement to allow cars to pass freely.
5:30-5:50pm: The march approaches Shubra Tunnel. “We found people ahead of us running back and yelling: 'We're being attacked, we're being attacked.' We started hearing gun fire (it is uncertain whether this was live rounds or blanks) and stones were being thrown from all around. All the men pushed the women under the tunnel to protect them and then began fighting back. They ran out to pick up stones (there were piles of stones) and throw them back at the attackers. This lasted 15 minutes,” Ahram Online's correspondent describes.
Another Ahram Online reporter describes similar scenes: “By the time I reached the tunnel, I heard gun shots, saw rocks and pieces of glass flying everywhere. The young men quickly encircled the women and children, protecting them from the incoming projectiles.”
Sarah Carr tweets: March under attack stone throwing gun shots
Lina El Wardani tweets: Stone storm and gun shots in shubra
5:50pm: The protesters standing in front of Maspero begin “reading Tweets as word reaches us that the marchers are approaching; the excitement grew,” according to one participant.
As twilight turns to night, traffic continues to flow on both sides of Corniche El-Nil Street. The security presence is “massive.”
6pm: One participant describes rows of CSF troops heading towards Maspero. The CSF, according to other testimonies, gathered in front of the state TV building.
6-6:10pm: The marchers are now on El-Galaa Street where the state-run Al-Ahram (the most widely circulated daily newspaper in Egypt) offices are located. An Al-Ahram security guard on shift that night describes mostly peaceful scenes. “There was a moment when rocks were thrown,” he states, indicating a solitary impact point on the glass above the doorway.
Sarah Carr tweets: Single.rock thrown at al ahram hq protesters stopped fuether attack. Chanzs of el a2bat ahom el sa7afa fein [sic]
(chant translates to: “Here are the Coptic Christians; where is the press?”)
Many vendors along El-Galaa Street until the Hilton described the peaceful nature of the march, mentioning that many were women and children. “There was talk of problems at Ramsis [referring to the Shubra Tunnel] and stone throwing at Al-Ahram’s building, but I saw no signs of weapons or violence as it passed me,” a kiosk owner stated.
610-15pm: The marchers reach Ramsis Hilton. Some take the tight road behind the hotel, Sahil El-Ghalal Street, which also leads to Maspero, while the majority round the corner where the Hilton stands, proceeding towards the already gathered protesters.
One protester, who had travelled from Sohag in Upper Egypt for the march, arrived with a pick-up truck which carried speakers and a priest. A couple of other cars drove in as well, parking on the corniche in front of the Hilton in anticipation of the other protesters.
6:15-6:20pm: Within the ensuing moments, the crowd already at Maspero swells forward, spilling onto Corniche El-Nil Street and pushing the row of soldiers standing on the divider. “A few stones flew overhead,” according to one protester.
As the marchers approached, small confrontations broke out between protesters and the military on the divider. It seems that many ran forward to break up the confrontations. “Tensions were high, especially in light of the video from the week before. Many stood around watching it during the demonstration. But any flare ups were brought under control. I mean: we were families with men, women and children and priests,” one participant commented.
6:20-6:25pm: Sharif Kouddous tweets: Crowd just broke through police line and pushed them back. Rock throwing. Chaos. Shots fired in air
One protester recalls seeing a group from the direction of the march, rushing forward with stones and crosses.
The military police fire into the air as the soldiers in riot gear charge towards the protesters, beating and pushing the vast majority into the tight back street, Sahil El-Ghalal, where they begin to rush back towards the Hilton. The rapid descent into pandemonium is captured here.
6:25pm: One protester’s testimony describes a line of soldiers then opening up “to make way for two [APCs] which headed out in separate directions. This happened as the soldiers kept firing, running after people and beating them.”
6:28pm: Mohammed Elmoshir tweets: APCs drive through demonstration and hit a lot of people [translation from the Arabic]
6:30-6:35pm: The APCs continue running “over people back and forth and then one more time,” according to the same testimony.
Another first hand account by a Al-Masry Al-Youm journalist relates a similar scene, adding that “a soldier on top of each vehicle manned a gun, and spun it wildly, apparently shooting at random.” Slowed down footage from Al-Arabiya seems to confirm this.
According to several eye witnesses, initially one APC began to drive towards the 6 October Bridge ramp, on the Nile side of the corniche, while the other drove in circles on the building side.
Hospital testimony: A 20-year-old protester from Sohag describes the chaos as he stood next to the ramp: “I saw the [APCs] ploughing through several protesters and then heading for me. All I could do was fall to the ground. Half of the APC went onto the pavement and the other half ran over me...I didn’t pass out, and I eventually got up and made my way to the Ramsis Hilton where there were about four others in critical condition. The staff bandaged me up and gave me sugar water and juice. A man on a motorbike eventually brought me to this hospital.”
When asked whether their had been any back and forth clashes before the APCs began their course of terror, the young man, who has just recovered from multiple surgeries to reconstruct his arm and mend the right side of his body, replied: “It was pandemonium. There was no time to do anything. They charged and we had no time to react. It was just chaos.”
6:35-6:40pm: A military truck speeds down the corniche away from Maspero, as two military jeeps plough into protesters, and another truck rams into a stationary bus, pushing it diagonally across the road. Protesters swarm the vehicles and target the soldiers in these scenes captured on German television. Minutes later the scene appeared quiet, but by now the protesters at Maspero were divided by hoards of soldiers in riot gear. Soldiers rushed at protesters who had made their way to the shops lining the Hilton side of the corniche.
6:40-6:45pm: The APC driving on the building side of the corniche ploughs through parked cars and anything which stands in its way. According to some testimonies, protesters had pushed some cars into the middle of the road to block the APC from reaching them. Several witnesses describe how APCs mounted pavements and crushed cars to reach the fleeing and shelter seeking protesters.
One participant sees an APC ramp onto a car, crushing three people hiding behind it. This testimony is corroborated here. Furthermore, several eyewitnesses have recounted soldiers rushing in to beat wounded and even dead protesters after the APCs had passed.
A third APC enters into the fray and drives towards the ramp, running over people as it approaches.
Note: There is confusion over whether it was the APC which got stuck on the ramp or the military truck. It seems most likely that the truck got stuck, turning on its side.
Hospital testimony: A young textile worker from Shubra recounts that he arrived at Maspero between 6:30 and 7pm. He recalls seeing protesters attacking the civilian bus with their crosses and sticks. Shots riddled the air as he began to help the wounded, carrying some away on his motorcycle. He recalls seeing a car on fire. “Suddenly I saw people running towards me, yelling at me to run. I began running away from Maspero and then I was shot. The rest is a bit fuzzy, but I was carried to a hospital that was crammed with injured. It was so full that the ambulance’s door wouldn’t close behind us.”
The bullet pierced his lower abdomen from behind, wreaking havoc on his stomach. The bullet fractured and lodged itself near his pelvis. He asserts that all the shooting came from Maspero: none came from the direction of the bridge.
6:45-7pm: Around this time, two soldiers within the now inflamed APC rush out. One, according to several witnesses, flees while another is cornered and beaten. A priest soon comes to the soldiers' rescue.
Ziyad Hawwas tweets: Gunfore again & again & again @ #maspero but what #f***scaf doesn't get is that people are not leaving! [sic]
Gunfire continues, as protesters begin taking to the 6 October Bridge. Many participents who had been seeing to the injured and dead are joined by others in some of the apartment buildings between Maspero and the Hilton which have now been turned in to makeshift hospitals.
Others rushed toward the Ramsis Hilton as security forces make a concerted push to clear Corniche El-Nil Street.
Ziyad Hawwas tweets: The ramses hilton center alley is like a war zone refugee camp where u find people screaming,crying & even fainting! #maspero
Though it is hard to be pinpoint exactly when, many participants mention army soldiers, at around this point, beginning to throw bodies into the Nile. (This testimony in Arabic and this one in English are among several which recount such sightings). In this Guardian “Live Updates,” the Egyptian Al-Masry Al-Youm daily is cited, quoting eyewitness accounts which state much the same.
7:18pm: Lobna Darwish tweets: Central Security Forces are increasing on 6 October Bridge [translation from Arabic]
7:24pm: Omar Robert Hamilton tweets: Army and young men battling a little on 6th October. Massive crowds still hanging around.
7:25-7:35pm: Security forces begin firing tear gas, forcing many protesters to rush towards Abdel Moniem Riad Square and Ramsis Street.
Mohammed Elmoshir tweets: Tear gas bombs with intensity [translation from Arabic]
Sarah Carr tweets: Now theyre firing teargas
Around this time, the first injuries begin to arrive at the Coptic Hospital in the Abbassiya district of Cairo which later, at around 10, mobs of thugs attempt to storm, setting fire to several vehicles in the process.
7:45pm: A state TV news bulletin announces: “Those injured at Maspero confirm that Coptic Christian protesters are in possession of live ammunition."
Note on state TV and other stations: Another bulletin on Nile News soon announces that there have been “two martyrs and tens of injuries among army soldiers after being shot down by Coptic Christian protesters in front of Maspero."
At about 8:25pm state television news anchor Rasha Magdy announces: “Three martyrs have fallen, as well as 20 injured, all are army soldiers. And by who? Not by Israelis, or an enemy [to the country] but by the very hands of a certain class of this nation's citizens. This is the army that protected the revolution; the army that refused to fire a single gunshot at its citizens, is getting fired upon, at this moment."
Moments later, Magdy announces that “three soldiers have been martyred and 30 injured thus far as a result of being shot at by Coptic Christian protesters.”
According to the Human Rights Watch report, the timing of the 25TV break-in was “at the same time.” The satellite channel was among two attacked during the course of the evening. During a a subsequent press conference, one of 25TV's employees spoke on the raid by military police.
Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), was cited in the aforementioned report as encountering “a short time after the government channels broadcast the reports...groups of armed men in civilian clothes from the Boulak neighbourhood, next to Maspero.”
Several eyewitnesses begin seeing around this time thugs with pistols, swords and bludgeons. One eyewitness reports fleeing to Maspero Mall, which lies behind the Ramsis HIlton, to escape the military’s gun fire, hiding in a kitchen and seeing, from the window, “at least ten thugs tearing apart a protester. They carried swords and once they were done, an officer told them to move onto the next one.”
7:48pm: Sarah Carr tweets: Csf and plain clothed people throwing stones from oct bridge
7:49pm: Omar Robert Hamilton tweets:I think i'm the middle of a crowd of militias. Men with clubs and antique pistols. Right outside tv building.
8pm: Omar Robert Hamilton tweets: Looks like thugs being prepared on north side to attack towards the hilton.
According to an Ahram Online reporter at the Ramsis Hilton: “Then tear gas canisters began landing very close to where we were standing. Every three minutes a canister would land in our midst. People started pushing back. By 8pm, we slowly started heading back toward El-Galaa Street. I saw protesters carrying a woman who had fainted. I saw several people carrying injured protesters. One man showed me a bullet in his hand.” Minutes later, the very same reporter, describes how many protesters began rushing toward Abdel Moniem Riad Square and Ramsis Street.
As Corniche El-Nil Street began to clear slightly, thugs roamed freely alongside military police and security forces. Several witnesses describe having their national ID checked as security forces, military and thugs looked to identify Christians. One young man, whose story was related by his mother, was "walking in the vicinity of Maspero from the direction of 15 May Bridge" at around 8pm when several soldiers gathered around him and asked him for his name. Upon hearing his identifiably Christian name, he was beaten severely, recieving several head wounds. Eventually, he was dragged to the state TV building and held inside and abused further until the next morning when he and 28 others were taken to C28 (military prosecution offices) for booking.
The young man and his fellow prisoners have subsequently all been charged with the killing of three soldiers, destruction of property, assaulting army personnel and carrying knives and other such weapons. Illiterate, he was duped into signing a confession to the latter crimes without the presence of any kind of legal representation.
This timeline was originally published on 1 November 2011