Egypt: Mosques Turned to Morgues

Cairo — Outside the gates of the gutted Rabaa Aladewaye Mosque, a grieving woman, dark circles around her eyes, threw her hands at its burnt shell. “Where is God?” she implored.

The growing crowds turned to her, chanting pro-military slogans. As they gathered round, her cries were drowned out with shouts praising General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, under whose watch the killing of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Islamists was perpetrated on Wednesday.

Osman Salah, an assistant doctor working in the nearby el-Imam mosque where the corpses of some 235 victims of the raid were laid out, referred to the violent clearing of the camps as “the start of Egypt’s civil war”.

Indeed the Muslim Brotherhood called for today to be a “Day of Rage” and fresh protests are being held in towns and cities across the country. Police have fired at protesters and used teargas in a bid to disperse the demonstrations, and news reports suggest that at least 16 protestors and one policeman have already been killed.

Mosques turned to morgues

Yesterday, the bodies of those killed at anti-military rallies lay in mosques and hospitals throughout Cairo.

At the el-Imam mosque, within walking distance from Rabaa Square, the site of Wednesday’s worst violence, families thronged outside the gates and against the doors. Scuffles broke out as those carrying coffins jostled with others clutching the identity papers of their lost loved ones.

Each time the doors opened the crowd swelled as the smell of hundreds of decomposing bodies wafted into the open air.

Within the mosque, bodies wrapped in bloodied burial shrouds lay lined on the ground where a mixture of cold water and blood mingled in the carpet. Women dressed in black sat with bodies shrouded in white. Every so often a howl of grief would rise as relatives picked through the bodies. Lists of the names of the dead had been put up around the building on cardboard.

Mostafa, a doctor working in the mosque, explained that some of the bodies would have to be identified through their DNA. “They have been burnt, there have been shots to the head”, he said. “Some could be here indefinitely.”

Salah treated people at Rabaa’s field hospital during the attacks and was now at the mosque helping preserve the bodies with ice. Living close to the square, he returned whenever doctors were needed. “How am I supposed to believe what I have seen?” he asked. “I have seen a huge catastrophe in Egypt. This was the worst day in Egypt, the darkest day.

“The people who support this are not Egyptians, they are not human”, he went on. “The people who support Sisi should see this with their own eyes. You cannot even kill animals like this.”

Salah insisted that the violence changed how protesters must now go about things. “What happened yesterday will not happen again,” he said. “Yesterday we were peaceful but from today we must have weapons because Sisi and the police are killers.”

“They were just people”

At the smouldering rubble of Rabaa, Amani, a local resident, surveyed the scene wearily. She was cautious of the military supporters touring the site.

“They were just people”, Amani said, “They gave us food and water. They were here 40 days and they did nothing.”

She had watched the attacks by security forces from her house and claimed that many in the seven-floor field hospital had been burnt alive. “I saw ten bodies at least”, she said. “They [the ministry of the interior] said they [the protesters] had guns”, she continued. “They were lying. I wish they had guns, I wish they had guns.”

At the camp, which had at times held tens of thousand of demonstrators, garbage collectors rifled through the still burning debris for scrap metal. Trucks full of police drove through the intersection as it was cleared of burnt-out cars, wearing masks to obscure their faces.

At the scorch-marked ruin of the mosque, an army colonel sat talking into his radio as military supporters congratulated plain clothes security forces holding semi-automatic weapons. They posed for pictures in front of the burnt buildings and stamped burnt posters of former president Morsi into the ground. Smashed onions and scattered lentils were the only remaining signs of an area in which food had once been prepared.

After evening prayers, worshippers at the el-Salem mosque in East Cairo, which had also held the corpses of victims, carried half a dozen coffins into the back of waiting vans. The anger on the streets was palpable as the wails of the women became pro-Islamist chants.

The battle continues

Today, protests continue and the people of Cairo who have taken to the streets are under heavy fire. Security forces have made it clear that they will not tolerate any questioning of their authority on the streets.

But pro-Morsi supporters are defiant. They are appalled at the violence and sheer force used against them on Wednesday, and many seem more outraged and determined than ever to topple to military government.

As Salah insisted, his voice rising, “I will join the fight until the democracy is returned again because that is my job. We will not leave our place as doctors and will help those who fall. I will be with them side by side until we have democracy for Egypt, God willing.”