“We don’t have many choices left. We have to keep taking to the streets. We have to keep screaming and shouting. We have no other choice,” said Salem, a Muslim Brotherhood member in his late 30s.
Speaking amidst piles of body bags at the Al-Iman Mosque on Makram Ebeid Street in Cairo’s Nasr City district – near the scene of the now dispersed sit-in of Rabaa Al-Adawiya – Salem was pale and angry. A carpenter from Egypt’s Nile Delta, Salem attended the over one month sit-in of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which ousted president Mohamed Morsi hails, to demand for his reinstatement. On 3 July, the army deposed Morsi following mass protests demanding an end to his rule, only one year after his inauguration.
Following the dispersal of the sit-in by sunset Wednesday, Salem was one of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters who took the bodies of those killed during the sit-in to Al-Iman Mosque. He waited for members of the families and friends of the dead to come from across Egypt to identify their relatives.
“We have people who arrived and have managed to identify their relatives. We are waiting for more families to join us. We are working on issuing permits for the bodies to be buried. Yet, we still have to identify many bodies, body parts, because they were burned to a point whereby it is too difficult to identify them,” Salem said.
He spoke hours before law enforcement agents forced the eviction of those inside Al-Iman Mosque. The agents ordered the volunteers and family members out with the bodies they managed to identify and took the unidentified bodies to be kept at the morgue before taken for burial if left unidentified.
“When I look at these bodies I feel angry. I go mad when I hear about the media coverage, whether state-run or private, of the sit-in dispersal by the police. I know that I have no choice but to show my anger,” said Abou Bakr, a student of law. Abou Bakr rushed from his house to the Al-Iman Mosque when he heard the news of the bodies being removed from the scene.
“I knew that it would be a complicated operation to keep the bodies intact as much as possible, to make sure that they don’t start to smell, to help people identify their family members and write lists [of the dead], in addition to help the devastated families transport the bodies of their relatives back to their villages.” Abou Bakr said.
Abou Bakr himself had attended parts of the pro-Morsi sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya. On Thursday evening, 24 hours after the dispersal operation, he was still helping as new body bags arrived from the vicinity of the sit-in.
“This is criminal! What has been done is criminal. It was uncalled for. Why did they have to burn people this way? Tomorrow, (Friday) I am joining the demonstrations. I have no other choice but to speak up and shout or otherwise I would be betraying those who died. I cannot do that,” said Abou Bakr.
“Yes, they did burn them (protesters) down. I was watching and I saw it myself. During the last few hours of the dispersal they (police) got very violent. They were using live ammunition heavily and were shooting at the tires that were already put on fire by Muslim Brotherhood members to defend the sit-in. Hence, the fire kept expanding until it reached the mosque and the make-shift hospitals, where the wounded had to die for failing to be able to move and run,” said Hussien, a civil servant who told Al-Ahram Online that he lives nearby.
Hussein said that after the dispersal came to an end, there were not enough ambulance workers to remove the bodies. The police called on passersby to come “and help remove the bodies from the inside.” “There were rooms [annexed to the mosque] full of dead bodies. We did, but we couldn’t do all the rooms because of the heavy smell of teargas, dead bodies, and burning tires and buildings. It is a nightmare. This is all I can say,” he said.
Around the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque, new burnt bodies, some with body parts missing were still being retrieved at sunset Thursday. In parallel, a government operation was underway to remove all the debris of the sit-in – with no discrimination whatsoever.
Massive street sweepers across the square of Rabaa Al-Adawiya removed abandoned shoes, torn outfits fully stained with blood, empty soft drink cans, burned fruits and vegetables, and burned bags full of medicine.
The mosque itself, one of the key mosques in Cairo’s Nasr City district, is only a black sad shadow of its old self. Nearby traffic administration offices were also burnt down, like the cars of many residents in the neighbourhood.
“We suffered endlessly as a result of their presence (protesters). They made our lives a nightmare. I am so glad they (police) dispersed the sit-in. They should have done this a long time ago,” said Nadia, a nearby resident. Nadia said that she did not have so much sympathy for the victims of the Muslim Brotherhood – not even as she watched the burned bodies being extracted from the debris.
“Their leaders are to blame. They should have asked them to go. We heard the police warning them repeatedly before they started to attack the sit-in,” Nadia said. “If they wanted to die to defend their criminal leaders than that is their business. The people I feel sorry for are the police officers who had to die to end this sit-in,” she said.
Nadia, a heavily veiled housewife in her late fifties, and her husband, Ali, a retired civil servant, said they hope the police would not allow any other sit-ins – neither around the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque nor on Makram Ebeid Street. “This should not be allowed because it would mean another dispersal operation,” Ali said. He suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood should reform “and stop threatening to protest every time they lose a political battle or be outlawed altogether.”
Salem and Abou Bakr are confident that the Muslim Brotherhood will eventually prevail. “We will not let what happened pass. Above all, we will not let the military take over the country,” said Salem, as crowds of angry Muslim Brotherhood supporters shouted anti-government slogans denouncing the military and the police leadership. The crowd of Brotherhood protesters also promised to show their rage.