‘What Happened Today Was a War Crime’

In the wake of the massacre at the Islamist sit-in, supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy count their dead and prepare for the next round of violence.

Ed Giles/Getty Images
Ed Giles/Getty Images

CAIRO — As dozens of corpses, wrapped in crisp white sheets, were carried out of the field hospital at the Islamist sit-in outside the Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque on Saturday morning, wailing onlookers held onto each other for comfort, screaming out the victims’ names. As ambulances lined up to take away the dead, blood trickled down the orange stretchers. A man bent down and stuck his finger in the crimson pool, putting it to his nose. "It smells like shaheed," he said — martyrs.

The early Saturday morning attack, which killed at least 72 pro-Morsy protesters, seemed to mark the beginning of a new wave of violence meant to disperse the demonstrations opposing the military takeover in Egypt. But a heated who-shot-who debate has since exploded: While Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim vehemently denied the use of live fire by security forces, doctors at the field hospital said they had received a steady stream of injured and dead protesters struck down near the sit-in’s brick barricade with gun shots to the head and chest.

"What happened today was a war crime," said Ahmed Fawzy, a cardiologist from the National Heart Institute who spent Saturday treating wounded protesters, many of whom he could not save. "It’s catastrophic."  

As the mangled bodies were removed from the sit-in, they passed through a corridor formed by medics and volunteers holding hands. As every corpse passed, the crowd would shout Allahu Akbar, or "God is great."

While Ibrahim said the Muslim Brotherhood fabricated a crisis for "political gains," Islamists insist the Rabaa killings were part of a planned massacre. Near the start of the violence, the Egyptian military invited foreign press on helicopter tours of pro-army protests at Tahrir Square and the Presidential Palace — a move that conveniently kept them away from Rabaa.

"Do you see human rights? "Do you see democracy?" one man screamed in the mosque turned makeshift hospital filled with unconscious and wounded protesters. "Sisi is a killer! Down with military rule!"

At the Rabaa field hospital, medics displayed handfuls of bullet casings — evidence, they said, that the security forces opened fire on protesters with live ammunition, though the interior minister denies these claims. The casings bore the Egyptian initials standing for the "Arab Republic of Egypt," which the medics say are written on all military bullets. FP could not independently verify the origin of the bullet casings.

But it wasn’t just Cairo that witnessed bloodshed this weekend. In the city of Port Said, one person died and 29 were injured following clashes between pro- and anti-Morsy groups. Once again, Egypt’s rival political forces were bitterly divided over what happened: Some witnesses say that attendees at a funeral for a Morsy supporter opened fire at a nearby church and set fire to a police vehicle, while Muslim Brotherhood members stated that the funeral was attacked by thugs.

There is so far no sign that the persistent violence in Egypt will die down. A Human Rights Watch report released Sunday condemned the previous day’s bloodshed, saying that the attack "suggests a shocking willingness by the police and by certain politicians to ratchet up violence against pro-Morsy protesters." Following the Rabaa killings, Interim President Adly Mansour delegated to Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi the authority to grant the military permission to arrest civilians.

Meanwhile, Morsy’s whereabouts are still unknown. The interior minister said in a press conference on Saturday that he would likely be sent to Tora Prison on the outskirts of Cairo, where another deposed Egyptian leader — Hosni Mubarak — is also being held.

The crackdown has also frayed the alliance between the military and some anti-Morsy civilian groups. Tamarod ("rebellion"), the protest movement that spearheaded the June 30 protests against Morsy, criticized the Interior Ministry’s decision to reinstate departments to monitor political and religious activities that were shut down following the 2011 revolution. The group expressed grave concern over the possible return to a Mubarak-era state security apparatus.

"Our campaign supports the state’s plans in fighting terrorism," Tamarod spokesman Mahmoud Badr said in a statement to the press. "However, we have earlier stressed that this support doesn’t include the taking of extraordinary measures, or the contradiction of freedoms and human rights."

The April 6 Youth Movement, one of the activist groups that helped spark the 2011 revolution, has demanded that the interior minister resign following the killings at Rabaa, although the group also added that the Muslim Brotherhood routinely incites violence.

But with every corpse sent to the morgue, Rabaa and the Islamist protesters there have grown more defiant. A short walk from the sit-in, groups of men built a brick barricade higher than the night before. In the baking sun, they handed dusty bricks down an assembly line and recited Quranic verses. Instead of heeding the military’s call to disperse, they are organizing medical equipment, rallying volunteers, and fortifying their perimeter.

Hassan, who used to work in Egypt’s vast government bureaucracy, said that nothing will force him from Rabaa until he gets his vote — and his president — back.

"Soon, the military will come back," Hassan said, washing the dirt from his hands and staring down the road. "We are ready for anything."

Sophia Jones is Global Editor at The Fuller Project. Twitter: @sophia_mjones

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