Egypt in crisis: "The body is evidence of the massacre, how can I put it in the ground?"

Bel Trew goes inside the Cairo morgue where the bodies of Morsi supporters, massacred by the army, are waiting to be buried.

Egypt is bracing itself for another day of protests by supporters of toppled leader Mohamed Morsi, two days after security forces cleared two main Cairo sit-ins, leaving over 600 dead.

There are fears today’s 28 marches, dubbed the “Friday of Rage,” will turn bloody, as the Interior Ministry announced on Thursday night that police will use live ammunition to defend themselves and state institutions.

Meanwhile the military has increased their presence on Tahrir Square, Cairo’s main rallying point, to prevent Morsi supporters from setting up an encampment later.

As the death toll rises, families of missing protesters scour makeshift morgues. The primary one was housed in El-Eman mosque, near the now-gutted square that was the main protest site in Cairo's Nasr City neighborhood.

Outside, crowds of people bang on the main door, desperate to get inside. Those managing the dead can only let a few in at a time.

Inside over 200 bodies, swaddled in blood-spattered sheets, were lined up in rows on the floor. Families in medical masks pick their way through the bodies, peering under the sheets at the mutilated faces to look for their missing relatives.

The room is not refrigerated, so volunteers set up dozens of fans and place ingots of ice on the bodies. They spray air freshener and anti-bacterial spray to ward off the stench of the bodies that are starting to decompose.

One elderly man, in shock, sits on a chair by an empty coffin reading a charred copy of the Quran. Above him are lists of the dead that were found with their IDs.

Families that do find their relatives are forced to wait by the bodies, which cannot be removed until the burial paperwork is finished. 

“He’s my son, just 16 years old. They say we are terrorists, but if want to know the truth look here, see it for your own eyes,” says distraught housewife Ola Abdel-Fattah, from Shubra, bent double over the tiny frame of her only son Khaled on the floor. “His father was with him when he got shot. He carried him out holding Khaled’s body in one hand, his brain in the other. My son is missing half his head.”

Just to her right lie charred bodies too burnt to be identified after allegedly being torched in their tents during the police raid. Their contorted remains resemble the victims of Pompeii. A volunteer holds up a bundle of cloth; inside are two bloated and scorched feet. The rest of the body was never found.

Local medics move between the lines, scribbling names on the shrouds, or jotting down physical features of the dead who have not been claimed.

“Cairo’s main morgue, Zeinhom, is closed and also full. We’re worried the security forces will doctor the forensic reports so they won’t be listed as having been gunned down by security forces,” explains pharmacy student Aisha Shadla, 21, holding a pile of handwritten notes on the unidentified dead. “Now that Rabaa el-Adawiya mosque was stormed by the police, there was no other place to put them so we took the bodies here.”

Many are trying to file police reports so they can start legal proceedings proving their relative was killed by security forces. An impossible task, they say.

“The body is evidence of the massacre, how can I put it in the ground?” says a man, not wishing to be identified, sitting next to the body of his student nephew.

None of the bodies are included in the official death count, which Friday morning stood at 683. The “Anti-Coup Alliance” behind the pro-Morsi protests later reported that this mosque was stormed by security forces Thursday night, the bodies taken away.

Meanwhile the main sites of the sit-ins that have been cleared by the military. Bulldozers were sent to remove the remains of the tents.

Rabaa El-Adawiya mosque, once the heart of the Nasr City camp, is now a smoldering and blackened skeleton. 

The buildings surrounding the mosque, which housed the control room of the protest, have been trashed: posters of Morsi, shoes, blankets and medical supplies lay scattered on the ground.

Wednesday's bloody crackdown on protesters has been widely condemned by the international community. The UN Security Council, meeting on Thursday, said they “regretted the loss of life” and called on all sides to renounce violence.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier called for UN intervention after what he described as a “massacre” in Egypt, and criticized Western countries for not preventing the bloodshed.

US President Barack Obama, for his part, cancelled a joint military exercise with the Egyptian army set to take place next month, adding that the usual US-Egypt relationship cannot continue in light of the bloody crackdown.

Meanwhile the death toll is still rising, and despite the removal of their camps, the supporters of Morsi say they will keep protesting.

“We cannot back down now,” says Hamdiya Sobhi, 35, by the body of her husband. "We will not let these deaths be in vain."

 

A woman identifies the body of a Morsi supporter killed in Cairo. Photo: Getty
Getty Images.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.