Two years after the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins, Egypt Today looks back at the stories we ran covering the dispersal.
by et staff
On August 14, Youssef Essawi 24, left his home at 6:30am en route to Rabaa “after he heard that many of his friends were injured,” his sister Nada Essawi recalls. Youssef, a member of the Heliopolis Club Water Polo team and a resident of Heliopolis, was never an MB or Morsi supporter, explains Nada, who was herself a Tamarod supporter. “I was against Mohamed Morsi for specific reasons which all fall under politics. I did not want people to die.”
But Youssef had a different opinion. “‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,’ quoting Voltaire, [he] would say whenever he was asked about the reason he goes to Rabaa,” adds Nada. “Youssef has always disagreed with the MB and their policies, but after July 3, he went down to Rabaa because he believed what happened was a military coup, not a revolution and that we should all leave our differences aside and unite against it.”
Ali Gamal and Mostafa El-Deeb were witnesses to the death of their childhood friend. “Foreigners came for a tour around the square and/or to speak to protesters and report live,” begins El-Deeb. “We were drinking coffee and editing images and videos that were captured the day before, when I heard a very loud crashing sound of what I thought was fireworks. I did not give it much attention at first because we were used to hearing the sound of fireworks but still not at 7:30am.”
All that Gamal, who was present at Rabaa from 7:30pm till 5pm, could remember “was the scene of children suffocating from tear gas, women crying and hugging their children, men being shot, hundreds of injuries, bulldozers crushing tents, chaos and panic everywhere. When we saw many people falling down, we rushed over to the center of the square to help the injured and escort women and children out/away from the shooting.” Youssef was shot in the head at approximately 12:30pm while he was carrying an injured man. He was rushed over to the square’s field hospital but passed away minutes later. His mother Nadia Ezzat was the first to learn the news of her son’s death.
“Why was my son murdered?” asks the architect. “His only charge was expressing his opinion!” Ezzat recalls that she had constantly warned her son of the danger he was putting himself in and says, “I felt his time was near. That dreadful morning he kissed me goodbye before leaving to Rabaa. I was asleep but I felt his kiss.” Essawi’s will was found on his desk later that day. “Dear Mum and Nada,” it began, “I have a feeling that I will not be coming back home today. I want you to know that this was the right thing to do, for me that is, for my peace of mind. If anything happens to me, be sure that we shall meet again soon, for life is short. I owe Adel Hamed [his friend] LE 430. Please do not mourn me. Wear white clothes at my funeral. I love you, Youssef.”
Ahmed Diaa was a high school graduate who had just been accepted at the Arab Academy for Science & Technology (AAST) and set to start this fall. Ahmed was shot dead in the head the day Rabaa was cleared.
“The autopsy confirmed the bullet was shot from over his head, not from the front,” says Bilal Diaa, Ahmed’s older brother. Bilal is one of Ahmed’s five siblings who were all present at Rabaa but in different parts of the square. Bilal describes his brother as the most intellectual person ever. “He was fond of books and used to read for more than six hours a day about everything you can imagine,” he recalls. He also explains that Ahmed was fighting for a cause he believed in and peacefully protested for more than 30 days. A neighborhood resident, he was present at Rabaa from the start of the sit in. “He was also present in the 18 days of the January 25 revolution and all the movements and demonstrations that followed,” adds Bilal.
Ahmed reached the square at 7:30am as soon as he heard the sound of bullets and people calling everyone to come down to the square. He was shot at 10:30am and carried over to the field hospital by his friend Mohamed Abd El-Basset, whose dad, a doctor and a family friend, examined Ahmed and tried his best to save his life. He passed away minutes later. Ahmed’s cousin was the first to find out and inform the family of the tragic news.
“I was unreachable for two hours because the network and internet were down,” recalls Bilal. “I received the news of Ahmed’s death at almost 11am and was able to take his body from Rabaa’s field hospital to another hospital located in the area.”
From the Outside In: Days after the dispersal, Egyptians abroad weigh in on events
“The world really needed to know what was happening in Egypt. All that was seen abroad was what the Muslim Brotherhood wanted people to know. But for heaven’s sake they were not peaceful. They were armed, they were violent and they incited even more violence — as could easily be seen by the hate speech spewing from the pulpits. The camps had to be cleared after it became apparent that there were terrorist elements within their ranks. But why was everyone so against the Egyptian government when it was only doing its job? Had they wanted to use excessive force, as detractors claim, they could have shot them all but they didn’t. Only 10 people died in Nahda, and if the protestors hadn’t turned violent in Rabaa far fewer demonstrators would have died. Tell me this, if the Ikhwan and their supporters really were peaceful protestors, why did they leave the squares and storm police stations, killing and torturing officers and burning down churches? Egypt as a sovereign state has every right to protect its citizens and fight off terrorist elements threatening its existence.”
Rania William, France
“Despite the warnings from security forces to clear the sit-ins days before, when they actually started doing it, I was worried and shocked. But after many attempts to reach a common ground between both sides, I believe this had to have taken place to end the unrest. The images [we saw] showed the protests were not peaceful, [with demonstrators] carrying weapons, which I believe resulted in endless bloodshed. None of us is perfect — we all face a huge gap that we need to [acknowledge] and overcome instead of fighting and clashing over the simplest thing. This is a spark for an upcoming civil war, unless we all start uniting. On the [ground], people should stop categorizing each side. Being an Islamist doesn’t mean you’re a terrorist or non patriotic and being a military supporter doesn’t mean you are against Islam. Egypt should have a national dialogue that brings together representatives of people from all affiliations to discuss the core crises in an understanding way. This is the only way to achieve prosperous results.”
Raghda Sakr, Oman
“Ignorance and lack of education are [two] of Egypt’s biggest problems. Most Egyptians know that right now something is definitely not right, yet they do not know what it is so they just make a fuss about it and make assumptions about each other. Whatever they hear they believe and they only see what they choose to see. And because of that there are a lot of different views. Egyptian people lack a very important aspect, which is critical thinking. When somebody gets a piece of information they first have to think about it with their minds and see if it actually makes sense or not and then think about it on a national/ Egyptian political level. If and only if these facts and pieces of information are identical or parallel should one come to a conclusion. It is necessary for any country to have different political opinions; no country can excel without different opinions and choices. Egyptians should be willing to make sacrifices and understand that it’s all about compromise.
If I don’t get what I want and my brother gets what he wants, I will be satisfied with that and will have faith that tomorrow I will get what I want and my brother will be satisfied.”
Seif Youssef, 19, US
“I do not give a damn about how we are termed right now, anti-coup protestors, Muslim Brotherhood, revolutionaries, whatever. I will not dig deeper into the issue and try to figure out what each side wants. The only fact I can see right now is that Egyptians have died and not only 10 or 20 but hundreds have died. These past events have given me a clearer view on so many aspects of life around me. It has shown me who real human beings — who deserve to be called so — are and the ugly truth of inhumane people; people who I once termed ‘close friends’ have now become total strangers because they have lost their humanity. So if you ask me if this is turning into a civil war, my answer is yes it will be so if we do not come to our senses and forget about so-called political differences. And think about those who have lost their loved one, those who died because their only fault was saying no. Whether they were right or wrong or wicked or unkind, do they really deserve to die? I do not think so.”
Yehia Tarek, 26, human rights activist, Germany
“What I am trying to do now is go back in history and see if this has ever happened to Egyptians before, this sheer inhumanity. I find it very difficult to live with, deal with, chat and sit down with people who are indifferent to the brutal killings and massacres and in their quest to find a meaning are trying to justify their role in what happened. I am not giving too much thought to relationships at the moment, as much as to how are we going to regain our democracy before we think about how to mend relationships and live peacefully.”
Rana Ragaa, 44, Canada
“I see a really negative image that’s destroying Egypt’s reputation. Pulled between MB supporters, the military and others, we are missing proper ways of dialogue with every side standing rigid and inflexible. No one wants to listen to the other’s views. But to believe that what’s going on is just temporary is not a solution. We fight each other and this is definitely wrong; things should have been tackled through more peaceful methods. If we can’t bring ourselves to label these events as a civil war then that’s the greatest misconception. Despite all the indifference and divisions, we Egyptians should never have let things reach this point of bloodshed. Here in Dubai I have met a lot of Egyptians from various affiliations and we all still share a common ground: the hope for a better Egypt. Together we’ve pledged to be responsible for delivering a better image about Egypt to all people here and share diplomatic and realistic views instead of emotional ones. The thing that irritates us the most is when people idolize a person for days and days on both social and mainstream media for no significant reason. It creates pharaohs out of normal people. The best solution for the next phase is to overcome the turmoil, to seek better ways of understanding each other, and to acknowledge our differences.”
Mohamed Khater, Dubai
“I think most everyone that has been closely following Egypt (especially those that have been living through it daily) appreciates the complexity of the sequence of events that led the country on the trajectory that it has taken since. With the exception of a few cases, it was difficult — if not impossible — to distinguish right from wrong, truth from falsehood in every one of those events. The massacre that took place two days ago [the Rabaa and Nahda clear outs] was one of those exceptions. It makes me sick to see such disproportionate and blunt use of force against civilians who happen to disagree with the political road map shoved down their throats by the military leadership and their supporters. Even if I were to believe what some say with regards to individuals carrying firearms within these sit-ins, it is still unimaginable to see lives lost in the hundreds and injured in the thousands and not put the blame on anyone but the forces that carried out this operation. These forces are not only well-equipped and armed to the teeth, but they also have the responsibility and the duty to exercise restraint, caution, and precision in how they execute their actions. What is really disheartening though, is to see other citizens condoning, praising, and even encouraging these brutal tactics against their own countrymen. There is absolutely no justification for the murder of the hundreds who died that day. No justification whatsoever — not political, not national security, not economic, not hatred of an ideology. There are many people out there (myself among them) who have no direct or indirect affiliation with the Brotherhood, but share a conviction that the political process should be above all else and believe that we are seeing the inevitable chaos that follows after that process was shredded to pieces on July 3 at the hands of the generals with the support of people who falsely sought short-term gratification over long-term gains, hand-in-hand with those who were waiting for the opportunity to pounce and return to power. To me, this is not about the Brotherhood. This is not about ideology over patriotism or vice versa. This is about a process, investing in it, and finding the discipline, courage and perseverance to see it through. Unfortunately, with the events over the last couple of months culminating in this massacre, and with the continuing lack of real leadership (both support and opposition) within the country to find a way ahead, the country is being pushed to a place where it would be impossible to achieve this goal anytime in the foreseeable future.”
Ahmed Bahei-Eldin, risk analyst, US
“I feel like people have lost their humanity, they have become so desensitized to the fact that human beings and fellow Egyptians are being killed and/or injured. It has become a sectarian war, more like us versus them. The media has incited so much hatred in people that it has become either they are with us or against us. People are fighting among each other and forgetting the bigger picture of people working together to improve Egypt. It’s like people want to win and want Egypt to be theirs. I do not want to term it as a civil war, it’s much more complicated. Civil wars are usually clear and both sides are equally armed whereas right now, one side is inciting the violence, pushing for it, the other side is committing the violence and the third side are the victims of the violence. I think it’s going to come down to whose vision is strong enough to outlive the other. The reason the 25th of January revolution happened was that we wanted to live in a free country, we wanted a better Egypt, most definitely not the one we are seeing right now.”
Yasmine Hisham, 22, Canada
“We get 90% of our updates from family members and friends (thanks to messenger, Skype, FaceTime, tang, etc.), 9% from internet media (e-newspapers, enews channels specially Canadian ones, 1% from Arabic media such as AlJazeera and analysis by famous Arab writers.The Egyptian media has zero credibility, and they are very incompetent. Facebook is full of jokes about them. Egyptians mostly watch this media to laugh at. Could you believe that someone of them said, “There is a mound of earth under the Rabaa sit-in under which the MB buried many dead bodies?!” Millions were at Rabaa; they prayed, protested and marched through the place. Whatever lies are said by media, people will never believe or trust them. The Canadian media is by default against what the US supports. They made fun of the White House daily briefing about what happens in Egypt. In Montreal, the Arab Spring was inspiring to the student movement. Many people I met before the coup expected it. A guy from Russia told me, ‘They’ will support a coup in Egypt; that’s what happened in Byelorussia; Romania; Ukraine etc. I asked him who are they? He only laughed. Another MD couldn’t believe that there are some people who could support such a bloody coup! He said he knows many Egyptians who are high caliber, and he is shocked that some of them do support the coup. Almost all of the non-Arab people I know here are against the coup. I haven’t seen any backlash to the anti-West rhetoric coming out of Egypt. I have a problem understanding the relation between Canadian and US, but I could say, [the Canadians] were expecting that, so, when they hear that the US supported the coup, they show empathy or at least understanding. Egypt simply needs democracy. What Egyptians believe now is that it is forbidden for them to enjoy democracy and freedom. Watch Noam Chomsky’s lecture on Arab spring. He says that strategically, many neighboring countries found it [would be] greatly dangerous to their interests if Egyptians could build a democratic paradigm. Simply it is not allowed for Egyptians to live free. I read many articles warning against extremism secondary to this bloody coup. That is what happened in late 1970s and 1980s and ended up with what happened in 2011. The only way to get the situation at ease is to retain the democratic hope, one that is viable and achievable.”
Waleed Al-Omda, Pharmacist, Montreal, Canada