A man cleans blood from a makeshift hospital after dozens were killed in… (Mohammed Saber / EPA )
CAIRO — Anas Mahfous heard the first shot and ran — toward the gunfire, not away.
The 20-year-old Egyptian dental student was kneeling in prayer Monday morning next to his father and three brothers at a makeshift camp in Rabaa, a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold in Cairo. The family was among thousands participating in a sit-in to demand the reinstatement of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, ousted last week in a military coup.
Mahfous wasn't an Islamist ideologue and he didn't see himself as a hero, friends say. He was just a normal, good-natured guy — boyish-looking and clean-shaven in his government ID card. They describe him as someone who wanted to do something to help his country and came of age at a time when the power of protest seemed to have no limit.
So when gunfire rang out at a sit-in in front of the Republican Guard complex 500 yards away, where Morsi is believed to be under arrest, Mahfous instinctively ran to help his fellow demonstrators, ignoring pleas from his father to stay put.
"He thought he was defending his country," said his father, Hemdan Mahfous, 52. "He stood in Tahrir in 2011. He demonstrated at home in Mansoura. And he came to Rabaa for the same reason. He never would have imagined it would have ended up this way."
Hours after the clash, in which more than 51 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed by soldiers and police, the stunned father sat slumped in a car outside El Taamin El Sehy Hospital, waiting to collect his son's body.
"He was the one son who always got such good grades," the father recalled, his voice cracking. "I never told him enough how proud I was of that."
After fighting to bring down President Hosni Mubarak's government, the younger Mahfous turned his sights on his own life and career. His grades helped win him enrollment in the dentistry program at Al Azhar University. During breaks he worked as an electrical handyman to help support the family.
As the Muslim Brotherhood ascended to the top of Egyptian politics, he became more active in Islamist causes, taking a particular interest in youth programs.
So when Morsi's policies came under fire and opposition groups began working to bring the government down, Mahfous felt betrayed, friends say, both by the secular youth activists he'd protested alongside in 2011 and by the military, which he always believed stood behind the people.
"Because he had taken part in the … protests against Mubarak, he felt like he had to defend the freedoms he'd helped win," said Ahmed Ibrahim, 43, a family friend. "He believed that everyone had a guaranteed right to peacefully protest. And he totally rejected the military's takeover."
Witnesses say Mahfous had barely arrived on the scene when he was shot in the stomach by a sniper. His father said he found Mahfous amid the chaos at El Taamin hospital, but the young man died in surgery.
His body was taken to a city morgue before the family began a somber procession back to their hometown of Mansoura, north of Cairo. It would be a painful homecoming for his mother.
"She doesn't know yet," Hemdan Mahfous said. "She knows something happened, but I couldn't tell her the whole story."