Cairo massacre: The Muslim Brotherhood’s silent martyrs lie soaked in blood

The corpses are a powerful symbol for the opposition. Robert Fisk gives a name to some of the dead and helps remember them

Share

How could the dead rest? Their wooden coffins banged against the iron gates of the mortuary, the families shrieked with horror, the cellophane-wrapped corpses were piled high with blocks of ice so massive they could break the bones of the dead. And, as the ice melted in the heat outside the mortuary in streets glistening with mud, so the coffins began to fill with reliquefied blood, a crimson slush at the bottom. “Martyrs” all.

And I guess it was then that I realised – as Mohamed Morsi’s enemies must have understood many months ago – that the corpses, the bodies, the cadavers, the “martyrs” – they are the official statement of the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s it. There is no further comment, partly because they cannot speak – Thomas Cromwell, I seem to remember, was among the first to associate silence with the dead – and partly because they do not need to. The police do the shooting and the result – the bullet smashing into the living – becomes the ultimate political policy. From this, there is no end.

The Zeinhom area of Sayyidah Zaynab in Cairo is a poor neighbourhood of dirty coffee shops and garbage-littered streets and those distressing Nile mud-cement buildings that lie against each other in the 37C heat. Would it be possible to find a more depressing street for the thousands of angry Brotherhood men and women and their grieving relatives?

Families in Cairo sometimes ask to witness the autopsies of their menfolk so the cries that filled the hot air in Zeinhom today were more than just rituals of mourning. Some had chosen to see the dead – that ultimate statement – in all their reality. I counted more than 70 corpses, although some coffins were piled atop each other and huge men pushed and shoved their way into the mortuary and stumbled on the ice and those awful cellophane bags.

The faces of the dead were concealed beneath the knots of the cellophane bags, their ghastly but invisible presence alleviated from time to time by the relief of seeing pairs of feet still wearing cheap rubber-soled shoes poking from the bottom of the stretchers and resting on the floors of the coffins. There was talk among these men and women of approaching policemen – I never saw them – and of an attack on the Giza governorate on the way to the Pyramids. Set afire, they said with enthusiasm. And so back to the old question. How many dead?

The debris of Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo The debris of Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo  

Down a side street, I found Abeer Saady, a reporter of Shorouk newspaper, vice-chairperson of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, watching the crowds before she searched for the body of a colleague, 27-year-old Ahmed Abdul Dawed, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter who worked – irony of ironies – for the government newspaper al-Akhbar. “The Brotherhood wants the figures of dead to be high, the government want the figures low,” she said sadly. “Certainly, they are much more than the 194 the government originally announced. I think perhaps between 350 and 500 dead.”

But if I’ve just seen 70 of the dead, I suspect the fatalities may well have touched 1,000. Or more. Other Arab journalists paid the same price as Ahmed Dawed. Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz worked for Gulf News but was officially on leave when she was shot dead near the Rabaa al-Adawiyeh mosque in Nasr City. Brotherhood supporters long ago abandoned any affection for local newspapers here but still have time for the infidels of the foreign press. Even so, they were distant in their replies.

“Who is this?” I asked of a youth standing beside a body covered in a big keffiyeh scarf. “What does it matter to you?” was his reply. I muttered something stupid, that he was a human being and deserved a name, and the man shrugged. An old man sitting on the lid of a coffin said that a man called Adham lay inside the box. I persisted. Names surely gave reality to the dead. “Mahmoud Mustafa,” another man shouted at me when I pointed to the ice which crushed the mound of his dead son. Another man told me he was guarding the corpse of Mohamed Fared Mutwali, who was 57 when he was killed by the police on Wednesday. Slowly the names brought the dead to life.

Relatives mourning their dead Relatives mourning their dead

Then a smart young man who wanted to speak in English but was crying, put his hand on my arm and pointed to another cellophane shape. “This was my brother,” he said. “He was shot yesterday. He was a doctor. His name was Dr Khaled Kamal and he trained in medicine in Beni Suef in Upper Egypt.” And the crowd took up the only word they understood and shouted “doctor, doctor” over and over again.

You could not see these things and hear these words and believe that Egypt’s tragedy would be buried with the dead today. And this morning – and how the holiest day in the Muslim week has now, throughout the Arab world, come to be associated with violence as much as prayer – the Brotherhood will remember their dead in the mosques of Cairo and Egyptians will wait for the government’s reaction, the police reaction, the army’s reaction, the response of General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

Of course, you can try to balance the pain outside the mortuary with the “normality” that the government wants us all to enjoy in Cairo, the open roads, the trucks cleaning up the wreckage of the Nasr City encampment, the scheduled reopening of the rail service between Cairo and Alexandria. But there are small things about the place of the dead which stay in the mind. The man who encourages me to go into the mortuary never stops praying, the cheerful bright blue plastic which lines one coffin and the incongruity of seeing an Etihad Airways label weirdly pasted on one end.

In the parallel street, two coffee vendors have been arguing and then fighting and suddenly the roadway is littered with glass and stones as people come out of those grubby apartments – men sympathetic to the government who suddenly believe that the smaller of the two vendors was a Brotherhood sympathiser; then a gang of Morsi men turn up and start chucking stones too. A little microcosmic anarchy to remind you of the fragility of Cairo. It should be good to return to the comparative safety of the old Marriott Hotel on the banks of the Nile. But it is not. No sooner do I reach my favourite Cairo home-from-home than I learn that Ra’ad Nabil – a tourist policeman working for years in the hotel grounds – was walking home across the river in Mohandeseen a few hours earlier when a group of local men threatened him. He drew his gun and fired it in the air. But one of the men seized the weapon and pointed it at Ra’ad Nabil – a harmless man in his early fifties – and shot him in the heart. What I wonder, does that tell us? Most certainly, another statement.

Last words: Victim’s texts with her mother

Among the many casualties of Wednesday’s violence in Cairo was a young reporter named Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz. Habiba, a 26-year-old Egyptian who was on leave from her job in Dubai, was killed as police cleared the Muslim Brotherhood protest camp in Rabaa. Habiba was one of three reporters killed during the protests. Her mother, Sabreen Mangoud, has since released a series of text messages she exchanged with her daughter on the day of her death.

06:19am

Mother: Habiba, what’s going on there? I went to sleep at 1:30, that’s 11:30 your time. What’s with the attack?

Habiba: The army and the police are indeed moving around the gates. The media centre was turned into a field hospital and the square is on high alert.

Mother: Where are you?

Habiba: Only journalists were allowed to remain in the building. I’m supposed to cover the monument in case the battle starts.

Mother: The monument is a bit far from Rabia.

Habiba: Field security is at every gate now. I am in the media centre. It isn’t far at all in fact, and the door is big and it can be broken through easily.

Mother: Are there too many police and army troops?

Habiba: Yes, but their movements may also be a “nerve war” tactic.

Mother: How will you get to the monument?

Habiba: I will walk like everybody else, or run. It depends on the situation.

Mother: God help us.

07:33am

Mother: What’s new?

Habiba: Foreign reporters just got to the centre.

Mother: I mean what’s new with the crowds? How are you?

Habiba: I took three kinds of medication. It’s very cold here and I’m shivering. Pray for us, mother.

Mother: God, keep us steadfast and give us power. God, grant us power over their necks. I entrust you to God the Almighty.

Habiba: I’m heading to the platform in a little while. There are tanks there.

Mother: God grant us steadfastness. God grant us victory.

12:46pm

Mother: Habiba, please reassure me. I’ve called thousands of times. Please, my darling, I’m worried sick. Tell me how you are.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?