Reflections from inside Rabaa, one year later
Pro-Morsi set fire in army Buldozzer - photo courtesy of Alaa ElKamhawy

CAIRO: “Yesterday was the most violent act for the police and the army ever since January 25, I’ve never seen all those people dying in everywhere, even those who are not on the defense lines,” wrote Alaa ElKamhawi , a photojournalist at Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper who documented the 2013 of dispersal pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins, and had been shot in the right thigh, on his Facebook account Aug. 15, 2013.

Kamhawy told The Cairo Post he was there from early morning on Aug. 14.  “I’ve been going to the sit-in since its first days; I never said I’m al-Masry el-Youm worker, and I wouldn’t,” Kamhawy said.

The dispersal of Rabaa al-Adaweya and Nahda Squares had the largest death toll of any event in Egypt’s modern history since the Citadel Massacre in March 1811 by Mohamed Ali Pacha. The sit-ins, which formed late June 2013 and early July denounced what they viewed as a “coup:” the removal of Mohamed Morsi July 3, 2013, following mass demonstrations calling on him to step down. The military moved to disperse the protestors the morning of Aug. 14, prompting a violence exchange of fire, and resulting in street clashes.

Military vehicle moving towards protesters in Rabaa – photo courtesy of Alaa Kamhawy


Figures for the death toll are still in dispute a year later; the National Council for Human Rights reported that Rabaa victims killed were estimated at 632, Wiki Thawra said that the death toll reached 932, and a Tuesday report by Human Rights Watchdog stated no less than 817 were killed, and estimated that the full toll is over a 1,000. Official figures record eight security forces who were killed in the dispersal, and 11 who were killed in the clashes that followed the same day. Government forces maintain that protesters initiated violence with the security forces.

Soon after then-Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s speech on state-owned TV ousting Morsi, pro-Morsi channels like Al-Rahmah, Al-Nas and Misr 25 channel closed. Ahram newspaper reported July 4, 2013, one day after Morsi’s ouster, that Mohamed Mahsob the former minister of Parliamentary Affairs in Hisham Qandil government said that he was “shocked” by the amount of the arms he saw in the sit-in. Rumors also spread of alleged torture cases inside the sit-ins; Amr Mohamed Salem was found dead with torture marks on his body in late July near the Rabaa sit-in. Amr’s father reported that his son had been making tea and coffee for the protesters, and he told Al-Masry al-Youm newspaper he accused the Muslim Brotherhood  for his son’s death.

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Kamhawy said that being a member of a foreign press organization was better to tell the sit-in guards, rather than admit being in a domestic journalist, who were seen as “anti-legitimacy.”

During the sit-in, Alaa said Muslim Brotherhood leaders on the platform “were sending the people they had arrested to a tent under a platform.”

“I was never able to enter that tent, guards on the tent told me they are thugs and no one was allowed to enter except leaders,” Kamhawy told The Cairo Post.

Kamhawy said he witnessed bulldozers entering the square to destroy walls erected by the protesters, but “during the 12 hours I spent there, I never saw these bulldozers running over bodies.”

The feild hospital during the dispersal – photo courtesy of Alaa ElKamhawy


Also Kamhawy said that the police and army were shooting everywhere, although they provided a secured pathway for the people at the sit-in at the beginning of the dispersal, “but they were also shooting towards the pathway.”

“Army and police were firing randomly, many people were trying to get out the sit-in but couldn’t, and finally felled down and died,” Kamhawy told The Cairo Post. He added “there were individuals in the sit-in among the protesters using automatic gunfire, I saw only one man holding his gun shooting towards the police and army, but overwhelming of the people were peaceful.”

Kamhawy said that “there were dead bodies, which there were no enough place to it, inside the field hospital or inside al-Eman mosque.”

“The army was able to disperse the sit-in with less number of deaths, if they only though of one hour truce, the protesters were going to leave a live,” Kamhawy finally said.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Elshamy, a photojournalist at Anadoulia agency, and the brother of Abdullah ElShamy, who was recently released from prison after a hunger strike, also documented his perspective of the dispersal.

ElShamy said that for the five days leading up to the dispersal, stayed from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. inside the sit-in, he added at the eve of the massacre, he had a call from a friend tipping him off to the events the next morning.

“At 5 a.m. Aug. 14, I started hearing news of security forces movements,” he wrote on this Facebook page.

He wrote that there was a photo of him surrounded by dead bodies and crying, “When I saw the photo, I realized I was crying only then!”

“I covered several incidents after the 2011 Uprising from Mohammed Mahmoud street clashes, to Cabinet Building clashes and Port-Said massacre protests. Causalities were suffered but never had it been this brutal,” ElShamy added.

Photojournalist Mohamed ElShamy – photo courtesy of Alaa ElKamhawy


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