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Sunday, 29 November 2020

Violence-struck Matariya residents want peace

Twelve people died in Cairo's Matariya district on Monday during clashes between protesters and police; many of its residents say the demonstrators are a minority

Osman El Sharnoubi , Thursday 5 Feb 2015
A scene from clashes at Cairo's Matariya district (Photo: Ahram)
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Views: 2966

The district of Matariya in Cairo caught the nation's attention recently when on the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, 12 people died there in clashes between protesters and police, out of a total of 23 killed in violence nationwide on that day.

The deaths were a repeat of events on 25 January last year, when 26 people died in Matariya out of 64 deaths nationwide.

Matariya is a middle- to low-income district in Cairo's north-east, and residents there, who told Ahram Online that they aren't supportive of the pro-Islamist protests that often take place there, are indignant of the amount of violence employed by security forces against the demonstrators.

Photographs of the clashes last month made the front pages of a number of major newspapers. The pictures showed Matariya's main shopping streets littered with burning rubbish, cars, and tyres as police APCs fired teargas and used shotguns against protesters who fired back.

Many of those died from bullet wounds, but the interior ministry systematically denies firing guns at protesters.

Close to the location where the clashes unfolded, Ahmed Amer, a middle-aged teacher and salesman sitting on a chair in front of his shop, blames both sides for the violence.

"Dealing with protests this way is wrong; you can't kill anyone who expresses his opinion, but protesting this way is also wrong," he said, saying protesters have vandalised the street.

Amer feels unlucky as his shop lies close to a regular site of protests. Clashes in Matariya often unfold on a smaller scale on Fridays, when protests in support of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi still regularly take place, over a year after Morsi's ouster.

Amer's main cause of distress is that many of those who die aren't involved in the conflict.

Indeed, Ahmed Mohsen, a local DJ known as Zo'la, who is a member of a popular music group, died when he was reportedly shot in the head while watching the events on Monday. Members of his group and his friends set up a fan page declaring that he was apolitical.

Ahmed, a resident who declined to provide his full name, told Ahram Online that his impression is that most people are against the bloodletting.

"They sympathise with anti-police chants due to the killings, but at the same time they will be supportive of police efforts to restore calm and reach out to citizens who've suffered from the clashes," Ahmed says.

Ahmed also expressed his concern for "people who have nothing to do with politics" but who get caught up in the clashes.

The same sentiment was expressed by a group of drivers discussing the death of a fellow driver as they stood beside their buses parked on the periphery of the district's main square.

Thirty-year-old driver Tamer Adel was killed by a shot to the chest, according to coroners; the drivers claim he was shot because he was filming the clashes with his phone.  

"The residents of Matariya who join the protests are very few. Most of the people here want things to go back to normal," one of the drivers, who preferred not to be named, told Ahram Online.

Matariya is adjacent to many other districts and suburbs which Amer and Ahmed believe are home to the hardcore Morsi supporters who continue protesting in Matariya; the district is their meeting point, they say.

The constituency Matariya belongs to voted by a narrow margin against Morsi in the 2012 presidential elections, but voted for two members of the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist group which Morsi hails from – in the parliamentary elections, leaving no room for certainty as to whether the district is a stronghold for Morsi supporters as some observers have argued.

However, the general tone of residents is critical of the heavy-handedness against the group's supporters.

Claiming he hates the Muslim Brotherhood, the driver says the police are nevertheless "brutal" in their response, leading to innocent deaths.

Two of those killed in Matariya this week were Coptic Christians.

"These aren't Muslim Brothers. Mubarak-era police are back in full force," the driver lamented.

A reference to Mubarak was also made by the teacher Amer, who believes the poverty and corruption spread during his 30 years in office led to most of the instability felt today.

"If people were to get a good education and find jobs, there wouldn't be the political strife we are witnessing."

After the clashes, army troops briefly deployed in the area after the protests phased out.

Amer says dialogue and a political settlement between the government and opposition are the only way to resolve the conflict, which he feels is growing. 

Like many residents Ahram Online interviewed, he feels violence will only make the situation worse.

Last Thursday a weekly market was underway; shoppers flocked to the area and stores were open: the scene seemed normal save for the absence of the large garbage dumpsters routinely used as barricades by protesters, which authorities removed in preparation for possible protests the next day.

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