Egypt: The Misunderstood Agony

Laura El-Tantawy/VII Mentor Program
Bodies inside the Iman mosque in the Nasr City district of Cairo, before police raided the mosque and took the bodies to the morgue, August 15, 2013


They came to the Cairo morgue looking for bodies. This was nearly a month before the Egyptian police confronted the Muslim Brotherhood on August 14. A woman whose husband hadn’t come home in three days, a couple whose son had been absent for a week, three relatives looking for a man, Karam, who had been missing for nine days. He had last been seen on July 2, on his way to his mother’s apartment. He had taken a taxi there and neighbors saw him get out at the main street. There was fighting in the neighborhood between the residents—mainly supporters of the protest against President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood called Tamarod (“rebellion”)and members of the Brotherhood, and people cautioned him against entering the alley that turned onto another alley that led to his mother’s building. He was warned, according to a press account, that “the Brotherhood have the area in peril” and “bullets were flying everywhere.” Karam said he didn’t care—the fighting wouldn’t stop him—he had come all this way to see his “beloved” mother, who was elderly and lived alone. A shopkeeper told me this. A relative told me the same.

The morgue where his family found him had been in chaos for days. Pools of blood were drying up on the tiled floor and fresh ones were everywhere. The only thing you could really hear was the wailing, and howls of “my son,” “my husband,” “my fiancé.” The dead seemed mostly to be men. Someone spoke of children but it was hard to tell. The decrepit place was filled to capacity and a worker shrieked about the lack of refrigerators. Corpses lay shrouded in sheets or what remained of their clothes, laid out in rows on the floor.

Among them was Karam. His face was swollen. His hair was crusted with dried blood. Lash marks and bruises disfigured him, and his body was scarred with lesions and circular burns, like the rings of a stove emblazoned on skin—on his chest, his back, his buttocks, his ribs. His neck was slashed too, as if with the mark of a slaughtering. His cousin had to look twice, three times, a fourth, to make sure it was really him.

The doctor’s report, labeled “Karam Hosn” and dated July 11, didn’t offer much new information that I hadn’t already pieced together, although it did use the words “torture,” “haemorrhaging,” and “thrown for dead.” It also made note of his fractured skull and mentioned signs of electrocution. Karam’s mutilated body was found in a fenced public garden, Orman Garden, near Cairo University and al-Nahda Square, by the neighborhood of Bein al-Sarayat. It is a short twelve-minute drive across two bridges from Tahrir Square, and had…

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