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
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France’s burkini ban could not come at a worse time

Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

Since mayor of Cannes David Lisnard banned the full-body burkini from his town’s beaches, as many as 15 French resorts have followed suit. Arguments defending the bans fall into three main categories. First, it is about defending the French state’s secularism (laïcité). Second, that the costume represents a misogynistic doctrine that sees female bodies as shameful. And finally, that the burkini is cited as a threat to public order.

None of these arguments satisfactorily refute the claims of civil rights activists that the bans are fundamentally Islamophobic.

The niceties of laïcité

The Cannes decree explicitly invokes secular values. It prohibits anyone “not dressed in a fashion respectful of laïcité” from accessing public beaches. However, the French state has only banned “ostentatious” religious symbols in schools and for government employees as part of laïcité (the strict separation between the state and religious society). And in public spaces, laïcité claims to respect religious plurality. Indeed, the Laïcité Commission has tweeted that the ban, therefore, “cannot be based upon the principle of laïcité”.

While veils covering the entire face such as the burqa or niqab are illegal, this is not to protect laïcité; it is a security matter. The legal justification is that these clothes make it impossible to identify the person underneath – which is not the case for the burkini.

 

By falling back on laïcité to police Muslim women in this way, the Cannes authorities are fuelling the argument that “fundamentalist secularism” has become a means of excluding Muslims from French society.

Colonial attitudes

Others, such as Laurence Rossignol, the minister for women’s rights, hold that the burkini represents a “profoundly archaic view of a woman’s place in society”, disregarding Muslim women who claim to wear their burkini voluntarily.

This typifies an enduring colonial attitude among many non-Muslim French politicians, who feel entitled to dictate to Muslim women what is in their best interests. Rossignol has in the past compared women who wear headscarves through choice to American “negroes” who supported slavery.

Far from supporting women’s rights, banning the burkini will only leave the women who wear it feeling persecuted. Even those with no choice in the matter are not helped by the ban. This legal measure does nothing to challenge patriarchal authority over female bodies in the home. Instead, it further restricts the lives of veiled women by replacing it with state authority in public.

Open Islamophobia

Supporters of the ban have also claimed that, with racial tensions high after recent terrorist attacks, it is provocative to wear this form of Muslim clothing. Such an argument was made by Pierre-Ange Vivoni, mayor of Sisco in Corsica, when he banned the burkini in his commune. Early reports suggested a violent clash between local residents and non-locals of Moroccan origin was triggered when strangers photographed a burkini-wearing woman in the latter group, which angered her male companions. Vivoni claimed that banning the costume protected the security of local people, including those of North African descent.

Those reports have transpired to be false: none of the women in question were even wearing a burkini at the time of the incident. Nonetheless, the ban has stood in Sisco and elsewhere.

To be “provoked” by the burkini is to be provoked by the visibility of Muslims. Banning it on this basis punishes Muslim women for other people’s prejudice. It also disregards the burkini’s potential to promote social cohesion by giving veiled women access to the same spaces as their non-Muslim compatriots.

Appeals to public order have, occasionally, been openly Islamophobic. Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services in Cannes, claimed that the burkini “refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements”, conveniently ignoring the Muslim victims of recent attacks. Barely a month after Muslims paying their respects to friends and family killed in Nice were racially abused, such comments are both distasteful and irresponsible.

Increased divisions

Feiza Ben Mohammed, spokesperson for the Federation of Southern Muslims, fears that stigmatising Muslims in this way will play into the hands of IS recruiters. That fear seems well-founded: researchers cite a sense of exclusion as a factor behind the radicalisation of a minority of French Muslims. Measures like this can only exacerbate that problem. Indeed, provoking repressive measures against European Muslims to cultivate such a sentiment is part of the IS strategy.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident in Sisco, riot police were needed in nearby Bastia to prevent a 200-strong crowd chanting “this is our home” from entering a neighbourhood with many residents of North African descent. Given the recent warning from France’s head of internal security of the risk of a confrontation between “the extreme right and the Muslim world”, such scenes are equally concerning.

Now more than ever, France needs unity. Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

The Conversation

Fraser McQueen, PhD Candidate, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.