50 days on, Rabaa memories still fresh

Looking back at the day he will never forget, Mansour believes that the "indescribable brutality" of the state was inevitable in view of the ongoing struggle against Egypt's former regime.

50 days on, Rabaa memories still fresh

World Bulletin/News Desk

Khaled Mansour, a prominent activist of Egypt's January 2011 revolution, still remembers every detail of what happened exactly 50 days ago Thursday, when hundreds of demonstrators – including some personal friends – were killed in the violent dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in for a cause they believed in.

"We knew it was going to happen, but no one imagined it would be that brutal," the 40-year-old activist, who had witnessed most of the major clashes between demonstrators and security forces seen in Cairo since the 2011 uprising, told Anadolu Agency.

Inspecting the exits of Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square shortly before sunrise on Wednesday, August 14, Mansour and a handful of "brothers" – as protesters came to refer to each other during the 45-day sit-in – noticed several armored personnel carriers (APCs) lining up near one of the square entrances.

It was then that he realized that Egypt's new military-installed rulers had decided to clear their peaceful protest camp, and at any cost.

"We then went to our brothers at the checkpoints across the square to tell them [what we saw]," Mansour recalls.

"We sat down to what we thought could be our last breakfast," he adds, recalling, "We all waited together."

The wait was not long.

In less than ten minutes, barrages of gunfire exploded behind them and the air quickly became heavy with teargas.

Soon afterwards, Mansour says, he saw a group of snipers take up positions on the roof of a military intelligence facility located across from the square entrance.

"There were more than a few of them," Mansour remembers. "And they were very conspicuous; they didn't seem to care about being filmed."

Dropping to the ground, Mansour and his brothers rolled towards the center of the square.

"It was the only way to escape the trap," he says. "Gunfire was coming from behind us while snipers were positioned in front of us."

Dodging snipers' bullets, they eventually reached the heart of the square.

"We would duck behind wooden tent poles, count to three, and then quickly run to the next spot," the activist remembers.

"You couldn't move one second after the count or you would be killed instantly by the hail of bullets that seemed to come from every direction," he adds.

From where he stood, Mansour could see scores of dead and injured protesters being hurriedly carried towards their makeshift field hospitals.

"All this blood… and it hadn't even been a half hour since the attack began," Mansour recalls, his face still bearing a trace of the shock associated with his first sight of the dead.

Mansour says the "real warzone" was at the other end of Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

"As we zigzagged our way through the automatic gunfire to get to the square's Nasr Street entrance, we found dozens of bodies on the asphalt, while the sniper fire continued unabated," he tells AA. "It was total chaos."

"Some protesters parked their cars in front of the APCs in an effort to shield the unarmed protesters," Mansour recalls. "Many of those cars were completely destroyed because of the hail of bullets fired at them."

The line of defense formed by protesters' cars, he recounts, created the only safe passage for those transporting the wounded to the makeshift hospital in the Rabaa al-Adawiya Mosque, for which the now-iconic square is named.

At that point, Mansour remembers, he saw dozens of protesters taking refuge in an under-construction building situated just past the Nasr Street entrance.

Some demonstrators began setting water hoses alight and placing them on the ground in an effort to obstruct advancing APCs.

Many of those who had taken refuge in the building threw rocks and petrol bombs at the advancing security forces and the snipers deployed atop a nearby government building who were firing at them.

Mansour says the battle for the last open square entrance went on for hours.

"By 3:30pm they [security forces] were becoming impatient," he says. "They wanted to seize control of that side of the square."

Soon afterward, the APCs crashed through the square entrance, immediately setting their sights on the demonstrators taking refuge in the building.

"They were shooting frantically," Mansour says. "They killed almost everyone on the building's first floor."

At this point, he says, he knew it was over.

"We heard that they had taken the center of the square and all other side streets and were now coming for us," Mansour recalls.

"We wanted to stay and see if there was anyone we could save," he adds. "But the brothers running from the other end of the street told us it was no use; that we would be killed if they [security forces] reached us."

Shattered brains

Mansour still vividly remembers the shocking images he witnessed during the dispersal, which he saw unfold from beginning to end.

"Pools of blood were everywhere," he tells AA. "The injured were dying from excessive blood loss while paramedics themselves were coming under fire while trying to treat them."

"One brother who was just walking next to me was shot in the head by a sniper, shattering his brain onto the street," he recalls painfully. "We had to gather the pieces [of brain] from around his body."

The one image that he still can't bear, however, is the sight of the burnt-out square, which he looked at one final time before leaving.

By that time, Rabaa al-Adawiya Square – which had hustled and bustled with hundreds of thousands of protesters and countless activities for 48 days – had become a deserted warzone.

Despite everything he saw that day, Mansour says 50 days on, "This was the hardest moment for me."


Looking back at the day he will never forget – as vivid as if it were yesterday – Mansour believes that the "indescribable brutality" of the state was inevitable in view of the ongoing struggle against Egypt's former regime.

Like many pro-democracy protesters, Mansour believes that the deeply-entrenched Hosni Mubarak regime was only shaken – not uprooted – by Egypt's January 2011 popular uprising.

He sees the July 3 ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi by Egypt's powerful military establishment as proof that the struggle against the Mubarak-era deep state is far from over.

"Mubarak was removed simply to allow the regime to survive under a different guise," he says.

"But these attempts to maintain the regime will not work," he insists, "not with tireless, determined youth still keeping the popular conscience alive by taking to the streets for more than three months in a row, despite the horrific Rabaa killings."

For Mansour, this spirit of resistance is symbolized by the image of young protesters taking turns attempting to stop advancing APCs from entering Rabaa al-Adawiya.

"They would stand in the way [of the vehicles], raise their hands and shout 'You will not pass!' at advancing troops before being shot point blank," he recounts.

"That's is why, despite everything, I'm still optimistic," says a hopeful Mansour.

"As the army fails to quell the ongoing protests, our free will – and dedication to the cause – will prevail."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 03 Ekim 2013, 22:02

Muhammed Öylek