‘We thought they would leave us time to grieve’
Egyptians mourned loved ones yesterday as a third day of violence raged through Cairo
A pro-Morsi demonstrator at Al-Nour mosque on Ramses Square in Cairo reacts as a friend who was wounded after security forces opened fire on protesters is treated. Photograph: Bryan Denton/The New York Times
Tears streaking down his face, Ahmed al-Sheikh let out a long howl as his legs gave way beneath him. “My brother!” he screamed, as a passerby caught his body before it fell to the floor. “My brother!”
Al-Sheikh’s brother, Mohamed, was lying motionless a few feet away on the floor of Cairo’s al-Fath mosque – shot dead by police in the third day of deadly violence to grip the Egyptian capital.
Heavy gunfire rang out in the fiercest street battles in the city since the security forces launched their bloody crackdown against supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday. Military helicopters hovered overhead as supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood clashed below.
At the time of Mohamed’s death, 19 other protesters lay dead next to him. Later, others would count at least another 25 corpses – making a total of 45, with the death toll likely to rise significantly. Across the country yesterday the death toll from clashes rose to at least 60, with 52 civilians and eight police officers killed, security officials told Associated Press.
At Ramses Square in central Cairo the bodies were piled up on the green – and later bloodstained – carpet of the al-Fath mosque. Earlier, after midday prayers, thousands of pro-Morsi supporters had gathered nearby to protest the state-led massacre of hundreds of their friends at two pro-Morsi camps on Wednesday, in what the Muslim Brotherhood had styled as a “Day of Rage”.
Within hours, they were themselves the victims of yet another bloodbath at the hands of police – the second massacre of Morsi supporters in three days and the fourth in the six weeks since the army ousted Morsi on July 3rd.
“We didn’t expect this after the killing and the burning of the bodies at the camps,” said Dr Anas Awad, a protester and off-duty medic who had rushed to Ramses Square to offer his expertise. “We thought at least they would leave some time to grieve.”
Next door, grieving had begun again. Mohamed Abdel was kneeling at the knees of his friend, Mohamed Said, shaking with sobs. Moments earlier, Said – shot in the back – had been conscious, lying against a pillar. Then his head slumped, and doctors rolled his eyelids shut. Minutes later, he was lying in the line of corpses in the next-door room.
“Does Sisi want to kill us all?” asked Mohamed Abdallah (46), an accountant who was sitting nearby – shot in the arm, he said, by a live police round.
“I don’t have words for them,” said Awad of the police who attacked them and the army-backed regime that has justified the brutal crackdown. “History and God and Egypt will judge them.”
It was a hellish scene at the mosque. Every spare patch of floor became a makeshift operating theatre. Green prayer mats were beds, tables were used as stretchers, while those already treated – blood drenching their shirts – sprawled against the walls at the side. In the absence of anaesthetic, someone ran around distributing grapes. Elsewhere, there was a team dedicated to resuscitating the unconscious.
A woman who had come for the day from Menoufiya province, squatted in a corridor, crying hysterically. “My brother and his family came today from Menoufiya,” sobbed Nagwa el-Qilani, clutching a Koran, “but I can’t find them and I don’t know if they are alive.”
The mayhem was in many ways one of nightmarish deja vu for many present. Dr Hisham Ibrahim – the surgeon who ran the field hospital that dealt with casualties at Rabaa al-Adawiya, one of Wednesday’s cleared camps – was again in charge at al-Fath yesterday.