Tally of Coptic protest violence in Cairo: 22 dead, 327 injured

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 10, 2011 

CAIRO — At Cairo's Coptic Hospital, 22 bodies lay in the morgue early Monday, silenced witnesses to what everyone agrees was the worst outbreak of violence to wrack this tense city since President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power eight months ago.

Hundreds of family members congregated nearby. Mothers screamed in agony. Other relatives cried, trying hard to stifle their tears.

Elsewhere, Coptic Christian leaders fumed in anger at what they said was the military-led government's betrayal of a peaceful march. Organizers said they had received government permission for the march, and blamed the government for the violence that happened.

"I will never see him again, never again," cried out Marie Daniel, 41, whose son, Mina, was shot dead during the bloody clashes Sunday night. She sat on the floor outside the morgue, her hands, cheeks and shirt covered with clotted blood.

"That is all what's left of him, his blood on my hands," she said, he bloodshot eyes filled with tears. "I was with him in the protest. They killed him."

Egypt's health ministry on Monday put the final death toll to the clashes at 22 protesters dead and another 372 injured, dozens of them critically. What exactly set off the violence was a matter of dispute, though few blamed the protesters for the violence, which erupted at about 6 p.m. Sunday as the demonstrators were outside the gates of the Information Ministry on the Nile River adjacent to the famous Tahrir Square.

The sounds of live ammunition echoed around downtown for more than an hour before army forces dispersed the protesters by chasing them with armored vehicles.

"They started firing at us as soon as we arrived in front of the media ministry;" Marie Daniel recounted. "They were shooting and throwing rocks at the same time, while the armored vehicles chased us and ran people over."

Her son, 20, was a well known political activist. A photo of him taken at the beginning of Sunday's march and posted on Facebook shows him in a pink shirt and laughing. Another shot in the morgue showed him with a picture of Jesus Christ on his chest. It, too, was posted on Facebook.

"I tried to look for him," said Marie Daniel, who'd set out for the protest about 30 minutes after her son. "It was impossible to find anyone in that violence. I received a call telling me he is injured and taken to the Coptic Hospital. Another friend called on the way to the hospital and said Mina was dead." She broke into tears again.

A nurse who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to talk to reporters said that Mina Daniel "received a bullet that entered through his left shoulder, tore through his lungs and exited through the right side of his abdomen." He also had been bludgeoned on the back of his head, the nurse said.

But that was not the worst. "Two bodies were flattened by an armored vehicle," the nurse said. One victim's head had been crushed.

Family members wanting more information were turned away by police, who occupied the office of the hospital's manager. Three, dressed in civilian clothes, identified themselves to relatives as a colonel, a lieutenant and a major.

Some relatives accused the hospital of not providing a complete accounting of what had happened to the victims.

"No pictures of the body or wounds and not even a description of the wounds," one man screamed, waving his brother's death certificate at an officer. "This is dirty business. I will not accept that."

"If you don't like it, file for a forensic examination at the prosecutor's office. There is nothing we can do for you here," the colonel yelled back and slammed the door shut.

Sunday's Coptic rally was organized by the Maspiro Youth Coalition, a coalition formed by Egyptian Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 85 million population, in the aftermath of sectarian violence that took place in May in the neighborhood of Imbaba and left one church burned and dozens of civilians killed or injured.

Evon Mosaad, the coalition's media officer, said the group had told police that the march would begin in the Shubra neighborhood and end at the Information Ministry.

"I got permission, the government knew," Mossad said. "Several police generals were around us in Shubra, they told me that no one will stop the rally as long as it does not turn into a sit in or strike. We confirmed that it will be all over in a few hours."

But the protesters were attacked as soon as they arrived in front of the ministry, several said.

They blamed soldiers. "I was beaten and threatened to be killed by soldiers," Mosaad said as she waited for her X-rays to be read. She said she hit several times on the back with a rifle-butt. Her lower back was covered in bruises, but she did not suffer any fractures.

"I tried to talk to officers, I told them to stop the attacks, and the officer waved his Taser at me and ordered me to leave," Mosaad added.

At some point, Egypt's state owned TV called on "the noble public to protect the army against protesters armed with weapons and live ammunition," a call that was described as "deceiving" and that fueled the violence. On Monday, dozens of Egyptian TV workers condemned the broadcast and denied any connection or responsibility for it.

At a funeral later Monday, Egypt's Coptic pope, Shenouda III, said that "strangers infiltrated the Coptic rally and committed the crimes that Copts were blamed for."

Key Egyptian political figures attended the funeral, including Amr Mousa, the former head of the Atrab League and presidential candidate; Gamila Ismaiel, a top Egyptian political activist and the former wife of one-time presidential candidate Ayman Nour; Buthaina Kamel, another likely presidential candidate, and Amr Hamzawy, the co-founder of Egypt Freedom Party and professor of political science at Cairo University.

"Suspicion was rampant that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has run Egypt since Mubarak's resignation, had sparked the violence to push back calls that it lIft the emergency law under which they can jail civilians on a wide variety of charges.

"I blame the government for everything that happened last night, and the state media proved that it is a dog serving the military council the same way it served Mubarak," said Hanan Fikry, head of One Nation Foundation, an Egyptian human rights organization.

(Sabry is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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