August 14, 2023 at 1:00 a.m. EDT
A whole bunch extra protesters had been rounded up and imprisoned; some had been later sentenced to loss of life. Many others fled the nation, by no means to return.
The violent crackdown got here six weeks after military Gen. Abdel Fatah El-Sisi seized energy from President Mohamed Morsi, a pacesetter of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi was elected the yr after Egypt’s 2011 revolution, which pressured autocrat Hosni Mubarak from energy and spurred hope for democratic change throughout the Center East.
The mass, peaceable sit-ins to protest Morsi’s ouster had been attended by 1000’s of Egyptians — most belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood and supported Morsi; others merely opposed the navy takeover. They camped out for weeks, constructed crude barricades and a few introduced weapons — fearing an assault by safety forces.
The most important gathering was in Rabaa Sq.. The federal government mentioned there have been terrorists and different harmful actors within the crowd. In 2019, El-Sisi, who turned president in 2014, told CBS News: “There have been 1000’s of armed folks within the sit-in for greater than 40 days. We tried each peaceable means to disperse them.”
Investigations by human rights teams discovered that almost all protesters had been unarmed.
The mass killing, and the shortage of justice, marked a significant turning level for Egypt — cementing the navy’s maintain on energy and its willingness to make use of lethal pressure to take care of it.
What occurred in Rabaa Sq. has divided households and mates, upended lives and deepened the nation’s political divisions. All these years later, it’s exhausting to debate brazenly.
The Washington Submit spoke to 5 Egyptians who had been current that day, or whose lives had been altered by what got here subsequent.
Forward of Aug. 14, Egyptian human rights activist Ahmed Samih acquired an invite to a closed-door assembly on the Inside Ministry. By the top, he mentioned, “I obtained a really clear sense that [the dispersal] was going to be violent.”
Safety forces, he mentioned, estimated some 3,000 casualties between the 2 sides — figures he shared with journalists on the time.
The divisions over Egypt’s future had been so excessive, he mentioned, that there was violence within the air. “Any individual [who was] very peaceable their complete life [would] say, ‘They only ought to kill all of them.’”
The morning the operation started, he rushed throughout Cairo to bear witness. “I simply needed to see the reality,” he mentioned.
Black smoke rose from burning tires. Blood was in all places — spilled on the bottom and smeared on vehicles.
By the subsequent morning, he had counted greater than 152 our bodies at a morgue.
Totally different concepts about what occurred that day destroyed a few of his relationships. “I nonetheless have mates I don’t speak to … and so they don’t speak to me,” he mentioned.
After Rabaa, he mentioned, “every part modified in Egypt.” For a very long time, although, he didn’t need “to really feel or imagine that the general public house was shrinking.”
He continued together with his human rights work. Then, in 2015, he was charged with illegally working his on-line radio station. His workplace was searched, he was fined and slept in an area police station.
The subsequent yr, whereas working as an election monitor in Uganda, he acquired a tip from a contact in Cairo: His identify was on an inventory of human rights defenders set to be charged for allegedly receiving unlawful international funding.
He returned dwelling for twenty-four hours, gave his mom energy of legal professional over all his belongings, and fled to Estonia, the place he had residency.
In 2021, after years of shuffling between enterprise ventures, he started working as a TV presenter for el-Sharq, an Istanbul-based TV channel owned by Egyptian opposition determine Ayman Nour, who can also be in exile.
He doesn’t know if he’ll ever have the ability to go dwelling.
Amal Selim, 54, and Sara Ali, 34, bereaved household
On Aug. 14, Amal Selim’s husband, Mohamed Ali, a hospital administrator and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, left dwelling to go to Rabaa Sq.. He advised her he had to make sure the secure evacuation of girls and youngsters. She pleaded with him to remain.
“He mentioned, ‘If I’m fated to die, I’ll die,’” Selim recalled. “He mentioned bye and requested me to forgive him.”
Terrified by stories of gunfire, she known as often to verify he was nonetheless alive. Sara Ali, her eldest little one, was out in Cairo — additionally checking in on her dad by cellphone. They had been in the course of a dialog when the road lower out.
When she known as again, one other man picked up. A sniper had shot Mohamed within the head, he advised her.
“He died whereas I used to be on the cellphone with him,” she mentioned.
She known as her brother, Omar, a citizen journalist who was documenting the chaos in Rabaa, and advised him to search out their father’s physique. However there was no signal of him at any of the makeshift clinics. Determined, Sara posted his picture on Fb and requested for data.
The subsequent day, a person known as her from an unknown quantity and mentioned her father’s physique had been thrown right into a facet road. She and Omar adopted his instructions.
“I carried my father, I put him within the grave and his blood was on my garments,” Omar advised his mom after they returned dwelling.
After falling right into a deep despair, Omar reassured his mom that he would assist run the family and lift his two youthful sisters. He was learning to be an engineer.
Then, eight years in the past, whereas Omar was at a restaurant with mates, he was arrested by safety forces. The household thought at first it was a case of mistaken identification. As time dragged on, they got here to imagine he was being punished for his father’s political opinions.
He was ultimately convicted of “disclosing navy secrets and techniques” and sentenced to 25 years in jail with no probability for attraction.
Selim later had a nervous breakdown. She had already misplaced her husband.
“All of the sudden he disappeared, too. It destroyed us all.”
Final summer season, Sara started experiencing hallucinations, confusion and language loss. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and recognized with PTSD.
She nonetheless grieves for her father. Typically, resentment creeps in. He was the one member of the household who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, she mentioned, but they’ve all borne the price.
“There’s no justification for what occurred to him,” she mentioned. “However why am I paying for it? Why is my brother spending all these years in jail?”
Lina Attalah, 40, journalist
Recollections of Rabaa creep up on Lina Attalah when she least expects them — a sudden squeeze in her abdomen, or a flash by her thoughts as she tries to go to sleep.
She was 30, a journalist who had simply c0-founded the unbiased information group, Mada Masr. She reported from the Rabaa Sq. sit-in that summer season. She awakened early on Aug. 14 and rushed to the scene with a colleague.
That they had no protecting gear. As safety forces superior on the sq., the pair had been squeezed right into a crowd close to a subject hospital. Attalah remembers the our bodies, a person holding a pile of ID playing cards belonging to the useless, folks making an attempt to avoid wasting one another.
As bullets rained down, they noticed a means out. There was no time to suppose. They held palms and ran.
“The language that I’ve doesn’t relay the depth of this occasion,” she mentioned.
Within the months that adopted, Attalah poured herself into her work “so as to not fall into the despair.” She understood, even then, that Rabaa was “the start of one thing very morbid.”
A few of her closest mates, together with activists and journalists, have been imprisoned. Amongst them is Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has spent a lot of the previous decade behind bars on expenses rights groups say are a sham. Different mates have fled the nation or died by suicide.
In 2017, Mada Masr’s web site was blocked by the federal government, however it stays operational. Readers in Egypt discover methods to skirt the ban.
Mo can nonetheless bear in mind precisely how the boys died in entrance of him.
First, the younger one hiding behind a tree, who let loose a puff and collapsed. “After I checked him there was a bullet in his coronary heart,” he recalled. “He was shot by a sniper.”
Then the ambulance driver’s assistant, shot whereas carrying his medical uniform. “His head was damaged in two halves.” His colleague was screaming and crying.
Later, there was the person shot as survivors tried to evacuate, their arms draped over one another’s shoulders. “We needed to step over him,” he mentioned.
Mo — a outstanding businessman — arrived on the sit-in that day round 6:30 a.m. He didn’t belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, he mentioned, however was there to protest what he noticed as an unjust navy takeover.
He was detained and compelled at hand over his ID card earlier than leaving the sq..
In shock, and fearing that the authorities would come for him, he fled to the USA three days later. He has not been dwelling since.
He spoke on the situation that he be recognized by a nickname, involved concerning the safety of his contacts in Egypt.
Within the years that adopted, his companies in Egypt had been attacked and burned to the bottom. His household was harassed by the federal government till he agreed to relinquish his remaining belongings.
As soon as amongst Egypt’s elite, Mo was left to start out almost from scratch in exile. “I gave up every part,” he mentioned.
He sees Rabaa as “the start of erasing every part associated to 2011,” when Egyptians had been united of their hope for a freer society.
Rabaa was an opportunity, he mentioned, for the navy “to flex its muscle tissue,” and to ship an unmistakable message: “No one goes to have the liberty to suppose or protest anymore.”