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Monday, 19 August 2013

The police keep firing; the bodies pile up. In Cairo, bloodbaths are now a daily occurrence






It is a disgrace, a most shameful chapter in Egyptian history. 


The police – some wearing black hoods – shot down into the crowds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters from the roof of Cairo’s Ramses Street police station and surrounding streets.

They even fired at traffic on the airport highway. And to see their terrible work, you had only to climb the pink marble steps of the Al-Fath Mosque – sticky with fresh blood yesterday evening – and see the acre of wounded lying on deep-woven carpets and, in a remote corner, 25 shrouded corpses. Dr Ibrahim Yamani gently lifted the bandages from their bodies: shot in the face, shot in the head, shot in the chest.

So now we have the Ramses Square Massacre – these bloodbaths seem to come by the week, if not by the day – and even as I left the mosque last night, where praying Muslims knelt beside the moaning wounded, a team of paramedics pounded on the chest of a terribly wounded young man. “We are going to lose him,” one of the other doctors said. So was it now 26 dead? The paramedics talked of exploding bullets, and certainly one man’s head had been half blown away. His face was unrecognisable.

The flies were already gathering, swatted from one corpse by a man in tears who was kneeling on the ground. When they could, the medical staff wrote the names of the dead in crayon on their naked bodies. “Zeid Bilal Mohamed” was scrawled on one chest. The dead still deserve names. The last corpse to be brought into the mosque was that of Ahmed Abdul Aziz Hafez. There were – I couldn’t count after the first 50, but the doctors insisted on the figure – 250 wounded.

What was so extraordinary – not to the crowds, perhaps, for they have grown used to this thuggery – was to see some of the faces of the killers. There was a man with a moustache and close-cropped hair on the roof of the police station waving a pistol in the air and shouting obscenities to crowds on the motorway below him. To his left, a policeman wearing a black hood, crouching by the wall, pointed his automatic rifle at the cars on the highway. One of his bullets passed between my driver and myself, whizzing off into the square.

An hour earlier, I had been chatting to the security police at the burned-out Rabaa Mosque in Nasr City – the scene of Wednesday’s massacre – and one of them, in an all-black uniform, cheerfully told me that “we do the work, and the army watches”. This was one of yesterday’s more important truths. For the army stayed a mile from the slaughter in Ramses Square, sitting atop their spanking clean armoured vehicles. No blood on their spotless uniforms.

For two hours, the police gunfire swept the crowds. Two big police armoured cars appeared several times on an overpass and gunfire spattered down on to the square from two narrow steel turrets perched oddly atop the vehicles. At one point, a machine-gun could be heard firing at the crowd of 20,000, 30,000, and later, perhaps 40,000 people, but certainly not a million as the Brotherhood were to claim. The huge body of people twitched and moved like a bubble towards the mosque.

As the police drove up the overpass, dozens of young men – trapped by their approach – began shimmying down an electrical cable to the ground. But one boy jumped to the top of a tree, missed the highest branches, and fell 30 feet to the ground on his back. Panic, fear, fury – “See how they kill us!” a woman in a scarf shouted at us, not without reason – and, I suppose, a kind of courage seized the crowd. They knew this was going to happen. So did the police. The “government” – I suspect it deserves its quotation marks – told the people 24 hours earlier that any attacks on official buildings would be met with live fire. The cops had all the permission they needed. And all the ammunition.

But let us not be romantic about the Muslim Brotherhood. My colleague Alastair Beach saw a man in the crowd firing a rifle at the police. read more