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Egypt protesters express shock and anger at police

Protesters in Ramses Square in Cairo, who came to protest Wednesday's crackdown, say police fired on an unarmed crowd.

August 16, 2013|Raja Abdulrahim
  • Demonstrators near Ramses Square in Cairo help the wounded after clashing with Egyptian security personnel.
Demonstrators near Ramses Square in Cairo help the wounded after clashing… (Khaled Elfiqi / European…)

CAIRO — When the bodies began arriving, doctors cordoned off a small corner for the dead.

But those killed in protests Friday quickly filled the space, and soon the entire left side of the Fatih mosque's prayer area was lined with corpses.

"Martyr! Martyr!" yelled men, some of them crying, as they carried in another body.

Amid the pandemonium, someone made the call for afternoon prayers, and another body was brought in. There was no time to pray.

Wednesday was the deadliest day in Egypt's ongoing unrest, and many of those who came out in protest after midday prayers Friday said they were doing so because of the bloodshed earlier in the week.

Protesters at Ramses Square, less than two miles from Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo, called for the ouster and execution of Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, who leads the military, and Mohamed Ibrahim, head of the Interior Ministry, who a day earlier had authorized police to use deadly force. About midnight Friday, security forces surrounded the mosque, where more than 1,000 protesters and the injured remained, and threatened to storm it.

Earlier, protesters had shielded their faces from the sun with newspapers filled with the photos of those killed Wednesday. A short time later, police began firing at the demonstration, adding 65 names to the death toll.

With the experience from just two days earlier, doctors and volunteers in the makeshift morgue knew the drill: They tied the hands and feet of the dead and quickly brought in blocks of ice to place on their bodies to slow decomposition in the stifling heat.

It was even hotter in the mosque than outside, and men took off their shirts and flapped them toward the injured to provide a bit of a breeze.

Family members pleaded to be let in to say final goodbyes. Before some men were covered with a white sheet, scarves that people had brought to stave off tear gas were placed over the bottom halves of the bodies for modesty.

Crouched down against a chair near the slain, a man yelled into a phone, "He's dead! He's dead!"

Another man sat beside the body of a relative. At times he rocked back and forth; other times he seemed to be weeping. Around him doctors and volunteers were rushing, trying to document the name of each person killed.

Many who descended on the square Friday came expecting a deadly response. In a change of tactics, fewer than half sported face masks; instead, people wrote their names and family phone numbers on their bodies or clothes in case they were killed.

Some put something different on their clothing: large bull's-eye stickers that read, "Project Martyrdom."

Jumaa Ajawan lay next to the wall at the front of the mosque, his pants pulled down around his thighs so that doctors could treat a birdshot wound near his hip. He was shot as he was helping carry a man who had been struck by live ammunition.

"It was the police and the thugs," said Ajawan, a butcher from Sharia, a Cairo suburb. "We were standing peacefully, no one has any weapons. But as our numbers grew we were forced to spread out and we got closer to the police and they began firing on us.

"We were shocked by the heavy gunfire, without any justification or reason," he said.

Abdullah Sayyid Abdullah, a day laborer, sat nearby, bandages on his left eye and left shoulder covering shotgun pellet wounds. His brother stood over him holding his IV bag.

"We knew that this is how they deal with us; the military rule only knows one way," he said. "The military rule has to have dead bodies as sacrifice for them to walk over."

Like those around him, he pledged to return again and again to the protest square.

"Either they will die or they will regain their rights," he said.

Outside, women were ripping concrete tiles from the sidewalk and breaking them into hand-sized rocks. They said it was their only weapon against the police and their guns.

Standing along the one open street out of Ramses Square as evening approached, a woman held up a handwritten sign as protesters filed past: "Stay strong, don't leave the square."

Suddenly a surge of protesters began running out of the square. The police have entered the square, they yelled.

The woman dropped the sign to her side and ran.

raja.abdulrahim@latimes.com

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