Egypt: Thugs, Salafists and death in Cairo

Eyewitness account of clashes that have left at least 20 dead…


Anti-SCAF Graffiti © Gigi Ibrahim


At least twenty people were killed and more than 160 injured near Egypt’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) on May 2 after protesters demanding an end to military rule were attacked by armed men. The protestors had been conducting a sit-in over a period of days outside the MOD in the Abbassiya area of Cairo, and included many supporters of Salafi politician Hazem Salah Abu Ismail who were protesting his exclusion from the forthcoming presidential elections.

The following is an eye-witness account by blogger Bassem Zakaria El-Samragy, who was at the sit-in. Bassem writes:

“Last night, like most people, I wasn’t able to sleep, and when I woke up I couldn’t do anything apart from go to the sit-in. I took the metro to Kobry El-Qobba  station, and walked along El-Khalifa El-Ma’moon St [intersecting with MOD]. Everything was fine and traffic was flowing normally. There was nothing until I reached the sit-in in Abbassiya Square; everything was still fine with very few people at the sit-in. I’m not that good at estimating numbers but I don’t think they were more than a few hundred. I didn’t see a single Hazem Abo Ismael banner but most of the protestors were Salafists. Of course this doesn’t mean they deserve to be assaulted or their rights violated by any means.

Anyway, I passed through the sit-in, and I found people from our side occupying and guarding the bridge (I won’t say “revolutionaries” and “thugs”, I will say “from our side” and “from their side”). The main battle field was the Abbassiya bus station. My chief remark is that people from both sides were very much alike; the only difference was more Salafists on our side. The main weapons were bricks and Molotov cocktails. I saw two people on the other side with shotguns. This is what was happening: we were occupying the bus station most of the time while the other side had the houses behind their backs as the bricks and molotovs were in the air. A vegetable stall was burnt in the bus station by one of our molotovs. Every so often one of the two guys with shotguns aimed at us so we retreated to the rear half of the station or to the bridge, until the people standing on the bridge threw bricks at them so we could move forward again. This attacking and retreating went on in a very equal battle. No injuries on their side, but I saw injuries on our side, mostly from bricks.

I mentioned earlier that the attackers were similar to us; there were even small kids, and other people throwing bricks at us in a way that proved they were not professionals thugs. But there were also people among them who really looked like criminals, and there were some people on our side too who looked like criminals. The only weapon I saw on our side was a guy with a knife who wanted to go over to capture a guy who was trying to provoke us…

In Abbassiya Square the cars were passing by normally; in only two cases I saw people throwing bricks at a taxi and a small Suzuki car as they passed. I didn’t understand why for the Suzuki, but with the taxi from what I understood the driver was honking hard in order to pass. In another case a passing pedestrian was shouting some words like “They destroyed the country”, so someone from our side took off his belt to attack that guy, but people stopped him. Several times I heard frustrated comments that it wouldn’t end without weapons. I didn’t see weapons but there were people talking about a desire, not just an intention, to bring arms and ammunition.
In short: for the first time ever I felt confused because the two sides really looked alike, as I said. They looked like civilians, but I’m not saying there weren’t thugs on both sides. Morally speaking the situation is really complicated.”

Written by Mohamed ElGohary


This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared at Global Voices Online