A “Day of Anger” was called for by the Muslim Brotherhood today, in response to the murder of more than 600 Mohamed Morsi supporters on Wednesday. The massacre was carried out by the Egyptian military, as part of a crackdown on sit-ins led by the Brotherhood in the cities of Rabba Al-Adawiya and Nahda. Before the attack, the Brotherhood had organized over 20 marches to converge on central Cairo’s Ramses Square as a show of defiance to the military coup, which ousted former president Morsi on July 3.
The protest in Ramses remained peaceful for about an hour, until armed men reportedly attacked the nearby Asbakeya Police Station. (Pro-Morsi protesters, however, deny this and claim that the police started firing without provocation.)
“I have been here since the start and I tell you nobody did anything,” claimed Mohamed Ali, a lifelong Muslim Brotherhood member. “The police just attacked us. If anyone is shooting, it is either police or counter-revolutionary thugs.”
When I arrived at Ramses Square, the tension—and gun smoke—in the air was palpable. The blasts were very real and very loud. A metronomic crack of a rifle rang out every 30 seconds or so, interrupting the drumming of the helicopters circling overhead. Every now and again, a short burst of heavy automatic fire could be heard. It was impossible to know which direction the shots was coming from, or who was doing it, but a group of men started anxiously pointing to a nearby bridge where a couple of armoured trucks had parked. Still 200 yards from the square, people were hugging the walls, crowding together behind the corners of buildings for cover.
“Do you see us?” cried Mohamed, “Do you see any weapons? We are peaceful and they are killing us, these dogs.” A man across the streets started a chant of “The Interior Ministry are thugs,” and everyone echoed his sentiment.
Despite the chant, MB members were also seen with weapons. Egyptian state TV widely broadcast MB members firing assault weapons on 15 May bridge during a march toward Ramses Square. Later, the State TV showed the on-going clashes under the running banner “Egypt Fighting Terrorism.”
Not five minutes after speaking to Mohamed, I stumbled across two men on the periphery of the square who were assembling Molotov cocktails from two leftover crates filled with empty glass coke bottles, one carefully placing pre-cut cloth into each of the bottles while the other carefully inspected each one. They reprimanded me as I tried to take a photo and pointed instead toward the police. “Take a photo of them,” one of the men told me. “They’re the killers”.
The closer you were to the square the faster people moved, shadowing the buildings for cover. A 63-year-old retired engineer approached asking to borrow my pen. On his left forearm he began to write a phone number and above it, his name “Wael.” “It’s my family’s number, just in case I am killed,” he explained to me. “I am not a supporter of Mohamed Morsi you must understand, I am just anti-army and anti-coup.”
Just past Al Ahmar hospital, about 150 feet south of Ramses Square, the gunshots became so loud they sounded like they were being fired right beside me. After one such bang, a man—30 feet in front of me—stumbled. A quarter-sized hole had appeared in his upper left arm, blood squirting out. After two steps, he fell over and in less than 30 seconds was scooped up by fellow protestors, bandaged, and placed on a scooter that took him to another hospital.
Immediately, people rushed to the locked gates of the Al Ahmar hospital. “We are dying here,” they yelled to the doctors standing inside. One man started shaking the gates so violently others had to restrain him, but not before more gunshots were heard, sending the crowd running for better cover.
Across the country violent clashes have endured, and this likely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, the Armed Forces’ reasoning—that cracking down on the sit-ins was the first step to stability and security—seems dubious at best. With every death, another martyr is made and the divide between the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood grows. At this pace, it is beginning to seem impossible that a peaceful reconciliation can be made anytime soon.
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