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After Egypt crackdown, charred remains of the Islamists' cause

August 15, 2013|By Jeffrey Fleishman
  • A picture of Egypt's ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, hangs amid the debris near the Rabaa al Adawiya mosque in Cairo after the area was cleared of protesters in a violent crackdown.
A picture of Egypt's ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, hangs amid… (Mahmoud Khaled / AFP/ Getty…)

CAIRO -- The charred road leading to the Rabaa al Adawiya mosque was scattered with an overturned army truck, smoldering fires, bulldozers, prayer rugs and tense soldiers whose bayonets glistened in the sun near a battered mosaic of a long-ago pharaoh.

A boy with a donkey cart sifted through the debris: syringe, book, bandages, wire mesh, a crumpled tent. Another boy trundled through the haze and stench, eyeing street sweepers and police. A shovel scraped and a woman sang with joy from an open window.

The Muslim Brotherhood was gone Thursday, scoured away by a crackdown the previous day on a sit-in that had fanned out from the mosque into alleys and avenues as if a noisy, boisterous city unto itself. Police stormed through scrims of tear gas. Many died. By the next morning, all that remained were the scorched artifacts of a defeated cause.

Posters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi lay in pieces, as if parts of a puzzle whirling in the breeze. Men with rollers painted over graffiti that disparaged the new military-backed government as “agents and traitors.”

Sultan Deraz held his son’s hand. It was the kind of moment a father hopes a boy might carry with him. Deraz looked about, amazed at how fortunes can suddenly change, and how the leader of a country can be in a palace one day and in custody the next.

“Morsi is a coward. The truth has to prevail and wrong must go down,” he said. “I came here to see the extent of loss and damage done to the Brotherhood’s camp. This is destruction that is good for Egypt. The attack on this camp broke the Brotherhood. They are finished.”

Sandals were scattered about, as if a great party had unexpectedly ended. Men with brooms swept them into piles and a woman, standing in the street, arms lifted toward the sky, ululated in celebration.

“I live right over there,” said Saber Abdallah Ali, a minibus driver. “When the Brotherhood was here, they tied people up, they beat people. They tried to take away our neighborhood. We didn’t sleep because of fear. They knocked on our doors at night.”

The Brotherhood occupied this space with its nightly speeches, flags and morning prayers for six weeks. On Thursday, thousands and thousands had vanished: their fans, generators, satellite dishes crushed. Some were carried out earlier, wrapped in white linen, tied with bows, blood seeping from where the bullets struck.

No one present here Thursday mourned. The mosque was blackened and gutted by fire. Soldiers in red helmets stood guard. Some took pictures with their cellphones; others smoked in the shade, listening to knots of people arguing politics, including one woman who shouted about dignity to a television camera.

“The Brotherhood burned this mosque,” said one man. “They killed people. They get no human rights. Don’t talk to me about human rights. This is the truth -- they burned Egypt.”

No one had asked the man about human rights. But he seemed pleased with himself and melted back into the crowd. Another man whispered, “You know the people here are hired to say these things.” He raised his eyebrows and drifted away, past the smashed stage where clerics once spoke of God and legitimacy.

A woman in a black abaya, a veil covering her face, scavenged for junk beneath a torched palm tree. She billowed toward men fixing a water main; broken glass sparkled on the sidewalk and a policeman in a crisp white uniform wiped sweat from his brow.

Mohammad al Ashmawy rolled beige paint over the words "Down with the military." He smiled. He was hired by the army to make it seem as if the Brotherhood was never here. He rolled and rolled, his face speckled in the shade of a wall.

“Yesterday should have happened long ago,” he said of the military crackdown. “The Brotherhood used religion as a commodity. I’m glad they’re gone.”

He doesn’t know what may come next.

“When Morsi was in power we had no cooking oil, no gas. We didn’t live well under the Brotherhood,” he said. “We’re optimistic now. Hopefully, God will give us a good leader. We’re so tired of all this.”

Ashmawy said the Brotherhood was vanquished. People have said this about the Brotherhood for the last 80 years, through persecutions, imprisonments, mass arrests. But it has never gone away. Ashmawy moved his roller to another slogan.

The road opened to traffic and the bleat of horns – the music of this city – echoed as the sun climbed. Troops washed the blood from the pavement, where for days Islamists battled police. The site is near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, across from the military reviewing stand where in 1981 Islamist militants assassinated President Anwar Sadat.

Soldiers in an armored personnel carrier kept their helmets tight and their weapons pointed toward a stand of trees, as if waiting for something to move in the distance.

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Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

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