Egypt unrest: ‘He was trying so hard to kill me he stumbled. That was when I ran’

A sickening video captures the moment a group of Muslim Brotherhood supporters throw two young men from a rooftop in Alexandria. Kim Sengupta meets one of their friends who survived the attack

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Amer Saleh’s lasting memories of that afternoon were the rage in the face of the man who hacked at him in a frenzy with a butcher’s knife, the pain and his relief at escaping – which turned to shock when he saw his best friend, Hamada Badr, lying in a pool of blood, his life ebbing away. “The guy was screaming ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he kept on stabbing me,” the 16-year-old schoolboy told The Independent. “He was so close his spit was coming over the hand I was holding up to try to protect my face. He was trying so much to kill me that he overbalanced and stumbled. That was when I ran. That’s what saved me.” But his hand, almost amputated, may be beyond rescue.

Videos of the attack on Amer and his friends in Alexandria have spread across the internet. They show men chasing a group of teenagers who had been chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood and had been accused of throwing stones. They are hounded on to a roof and then up to a concrete ledge where they desperately try to take refuge. One of the boys is then dragged down and savagely assaulted before the other boys are thrown from the concrete above. Afterwards the men can be seen walking away. One of the men in the video carries the black flag of al-Qa’ida on his shoulder.

In one of the films, a woman is heard crying in the background: “Help them, someone please help them, they will kill the poor boys.” Hamada died, and reports in Alexandria claim the other boy has now succumbed to his injuries. The rest of the group were seriously injured but are expected to recover, though one of them will probably be paralysed. The casualties were among dozens who have been injured and killed in Alexandria in the violence that has broken out across the country after the army deposed the Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi.

Egypt’s second city has suffered some of the worst of the violence, although only sketchy details have made it to the outside world. Last Friday, when the headlines described the four people killed during protests in Cairo, 17 died in Alexandria. Although the capital had been relatively quiet since troops shot dead at least 51 Muslim Brotherhood supporters this week, lethal attacks, some targeted, have continued here.

One of the world’s great metropolises, with a tradition of liberal arts, learning and diversity, Alexandria had in recent times come to be known as something of an Islamist stronghold.

The city voted in a progressive candidate in the 2011 national elections, before backing Mr Morsi in the run-off which followed. But last November, when the Islamist President forced through a decree granting himself wide-ranging extra powers, protesters burned down the Brotherhood’s offices in the Sidi Gaber district and the mood in the city is turning against him.

On 28 June, as protests against Mr Morsi’s increasingly draconian rule swept the country, the Brotherhood’s offices were torched again in clashes that left two dead, including an American college student. Islamists retaliated with shotguns and Molotov cocktails. Last Friday, they marched against Mr Morsi’s removal from office, entering Sidi Gaber – where Amer and his friends were attacked.

In Cairo the Muslim Brotherhood had sought to portray itself as a victim in the violence that has racked the country over the past week, but the view among many here is that the Islamists have been the most aggressive. “We don’t have guns, we weren’t throwing stones, we didn’t have knives, we were just making some comments about the Brotherhood. And for that this happened to me,” Amer said, holding up his bandaged hand. “Hamada was closer than a brother to me, he wasn’t fighting, he was trying to get away and they killed him.”

Like the attack on the youths on the roof at Massir Street last Friday, most of the Islamist violence has been directed not at the security forces but at civilians. One Brotherhood supporter countered that these civilians are actually agents of the security apparatus or the Mubarak regime. There was not much evidence of that among the groups of young “self-defence volunteers” that I met. There was a lot of bravado, but little in the way of organisation, arms, or signs of hidden hands.

Supporters of the Brotherhood defended themselves against accusations of violence in Alexandria. “You have seen how they are killing our people in Cairo. They have carried out a military coup to imprison a legitimate President. They are opening fire on peaceful demonstrators,” Abdulrahman Ali said. “There are a lot of lies being told in Alexandria. There are a lot of people who are being killed who are our supporters, but they are being passed off as being killed by us. Look at the election: we have a lot of support here. What happened on the roof that day – there are a lot of things said that are not true. Anyway, we have the right to defend ourselves.”

Other Brotherhood members have claimed that those who carried out the attack on Amer and his friends were “hired thugs”. The man with the large  beard and al-Qa’ida flag in the video has now been arrested and charged with murder. Mohamed Hasan Ramadan says he was forced to retaliate because the teenagers were “talking in a bad way about religion”. He had also said he wanted to die because of what he had done. But a police colonel who had interrogated the prisoner told me: “When we went into this further he said he wanted to die as quickly as possible because he was surely going to heaven for executing an infidel.”

Mohamed Abdul Aziz, the father of Hamada, said: “We haven’t really seen much of the police or the army here, they are trying not to provoke anyone; that is the reason why the confrontations have been between the Islamists and local communities. These people want to impose their views on us, they don’t want to listen to arguments, they say they are right, and we must obey. We are not going to. This is Egypt, not Afghanistan.”

But, reflecting on the personal price he has paid, the 56-year-old engineer’s voice faltered: “The boy they killed, my boy, was 19 years old, 19 years and four days. I remember seeing him in hospital. I thought he would be all right. But he was in bad pain. He kissed my hand and said: ‘Dad, I am going to die.’ We lost him a few hours later. His mother keeps crying all the time. I myself do not hate the Salafists. They have sent him to a place where they can never hope to get to themselves with their ignorance and hate.”

The animosity between the protagonists here does not follow expected lines. Those opposed to the Brotherhood are not all middle class or secular intelligentsia. Islam Sayed Issa, a 22-year-old barber, was shot dead by Brotherhood supporters during a march, according to his family.  At his home in the largely working-class district of Cleopatra, with framed Koranic inscriptions on the wall and religious music playing from the television, Mr Issa’s mother, Nasreen Ismail, shook her head.

“They insult us by calling us infidels,” she said. “We do not need lessons from them, we are good Muslims. But we are against Morsi and that’s why they don’t like us. He was ruining the country; the military did the right thing to help us with this revolution.”

Mr Issa’s family said he had gone with other young men to the entrance of their road to stop Islamist “thugs” coming in. There were altercations, and he was chased, tripped and blasted with a shotgun. “The man who shot him was standing over him. The hole made was so big that the doctor at the hospital could put his fist in it,” his grandmother said, putting her head in her hands. “It hurts me to talk about this, but I want to tell people how they murdered him. I am old and I’ve seen lots of bad things in my time, but these people are cruel and evil; he was not a policeman, not a soldier. They killed a young man lying on the ground.”

Ms Ismail put her fists through a window in the hospital corridor after being told that Islam was dead. “I looked at the blood on my hand and I wished I was dead. It is very hard being a mother and seeing this happen to your son. We didn’t really see him much; he came home and now this.”

Mr Issa had been working at a tourist resort at Sharm-el-Sheikh, but was told by his boss to go home for the time being because the number of tourists had dropped off dramatically once the troubles began. Alexandria, normally another popular destination for visitors, is also suffering from a loss of revenue. There are hardly any obvious foreigners on the streets. At the Cecil Hotel, a famous landmark, we were among a tiny handful of guests.

“We have had far worse problems with intolerance in the past,” said Wafic el-Nasri, a 68-year-old retired schoolteacher who had come from Luxor to see relatives. “Many centuries ago they destroyed all the temples accused of being pagan and drove out the Jewish community. That wasn’t done by Muslims, but by a Christian Roman emperor. There have been other such foolish things in our history, but Alexandria has always survived.”

Amer and his friends said they have no intention of leaving. “This is our home, we were born here, we will continue protecting the community,” he said. Posters have been put up in neighbourhoods of Mr Issa and Hamada and other “martyrs”. On the first night of Ramadan a group of residents sat outside a café at Sidi Gaber, where a lot of the fighting had taken place. They were preparing for what they termed “future aggression” from the Islamists. “This is a problem we have to face ourselves,” Hamada’s father said. “They say they represent the people. But look around: we are the people, and we certainly don’t want them here.”

Muslim Brotherhood 'will continue peaceful resistance to bloody military coup against constitutional legitimacy'

The Muslim Brotherhood has continued to reject Egypt’s revolutionary transition and said it was determined to push for the reinstatement of toppled President Mohamed Morsi.

The group has persistently attacked the political roadmap that was supported by a coalition of anti-Morsi forces. The interim President, Adly Mansour, has said he would welcome the involvement of Brotherhood members, but the group’s leaders have so far steadfastly refused.

“We will continue our peaceful resistance to the bloody military coup against constitutional legitimacy,” the Brotherhood said in a statement.

Cracks have begun to develop in the front which emerged against Mohamed Morsi. Politicians and activists who spearheaded the former President’s demise have expressed concern over the constitutional declaration issued by Mr Mansour this week.

Many were angered after not being consulted over the document, which outlined the interim leader’s powers and provided a blueprint for drafting a new constitution.

Following Mr Morsi’s downfall, the Egyptian authorities initiated a crackdown against the Brotherhood. Several arrest warrants were issued, including for the group’s Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie.

Other Brotherhood leaders have been jailed, leading the group to issue a statement claiming that “dictatorship is back”.

Alastair Beach