Remembering the Maspero Massacre, October 9, 2011

October 9, 2011
Cairo, Egypt

Midday, October 9, 2011, I sat in my living room knowing that there will be protests at Maspero and knowingly stayed at home. For some reason I decided to stay in and finish some work.  A few days earlier a sit-in staged by Copts in front of the building was dispersed by force.

I recall seeing @Sarahngb’s tweets, she was at Maspero waiting for the Shubra march to make its way to the State TV building.  A bit later I received a call from my friend @RagySoliman, who was asking me what is going on at Maspero, I told him people are starting to gather there and that the march seems to be making its way from Shubra through Bolaq.  As we were on the phone, he was walking from the Nile Towers, where he worked, towards Maspero, when I starting reading tweets on my timeline reporting attacks on the march as it went through the Shubra tunnel. He hadn’t hung up yet, so I told him. Now recalling the phone call, I remember him taking a deep breath and saying I am going anyways. We exchanged well wishes and ended the phone call.

Sketch commemorating the Maspero Massacre, by @Elmoshir (twitter)

Minutes later, I saw @Sarahngb’s tweets reporting that a military unit has stopped her and demanded her ID, and that they have taken off with her passport, then a few minutes later she reported that they returned her passports. Within the same timeframe the march was arriving to Maspero. Thinking that all is well now, I stepped away from my computer to shower, five minutes later however, things were not all well. My twitter timeline was riddled with tweets of agony, fear and reports of horrific beatings by the military. Checking @Sarahngb’s timeline I saw that she reported that clashes have erupted, and that it is getting chaotic. Then there was a tweet from her with a bunch of incoherent letters. I knew something went terribly wrong.

As per the time of the extended Aftershocks (the months that followed the initial 18 days of January 25, 2011 that saw clashes between protesters and security forces) of the revolution, I had a backpack always ready, it contained a surgical medical kit, gloves, gas masks, cameras, extra phone, etc.  Within minutes this bag was on my back and I was in my car driving towards Maspero.

On my way there I was receiving frantic phone calls from friends, family and coworkers, who were asking what was going on.  On that day, the Free Egyptians Party (FEP) leadership, Muslims and Christians, had decided to join the peaceful stand at Maspero.  Effectively I personally knew no less than 10-15 people who were present at State TV building when the clashes erupted.  Two calls stood out though, the first was @Sarahngb returning my calls. She was alive and getting out towards Zamalek, she had ran after a beating she received from the military and was heading to @Sandmonkey’s place.  The second call was from @RagySoliman’s wife.  We had never spoke in person before over the phone, I had met her once in my life with her husband, and she was calling me frantically asking if I knew anything about her husband. After informing her that I had just spoken to him over the phone minutes before the clashes, I promised her I will not leave there before I find him, no matter what.

Blood at Night, Grief by Day | Maspero 9/10 الدماء و الأسى | ماسبيرو by @mosireen

22 minutes after leaving my place I was parked across the street from the Automobile club in downtown Cairo. With my backpack on my back, I was sprinting towards Maspero, through Abd El Monim Riad, my phone kept ringing and I answered the calls I could while panting through the run, until this point, mild smell of tear gas. Then I stopped at a sizable group of protesters under the October 6th Bridge, right across from the Hilton Ramsis, neighboring Maspero.  My phone rang, I recall it was some TV anchor from Al-Arabya and/or Orbit, he was asking me about the conditions at Maspero, and I kept trying to tell him that I am still looking for my friends and that I do not have a clear view of Maspero yet, however the situation is chaotic.  As I was hanging up I realized that I just walked in the cleared space between the protesters and the security forces.  In my frantic rush and being on the phone at the same time, I had wandered off to danger zone, as I pulled my phone off my ear, some trigger happy Central Security Forces soldier fired a tear gas canister at me, which hit my foot and stopped.  The gas overwhelmed me.  That is when @MR_MOST, some random kid who I helped jump off the fence earlier helped me out of the smoke, I recall he kept asking me: “Which news outlet are you with”, he was filming and thought I was a journalist as well.

We had never met before, but we stuck out the rest of the night together filming the clashes that lasted for hours.

After @MR_MOST pulled me back and I could catch my breath, I continued my search for Ragy, for about 30 minutes, when I received a call from a member of FEP, who told me Ragy was hurt, but alive, in a hospital in Mohandeseen, I was informed that @AhmedHassanSaid, who later became a MP of this very district was hurt the worst out of the FEP crew.

By then I was comforted that at least none of the people I knew to be there are dead, but for some reason I could not leave.

Most of the videos I shot were shot from the side of bystanders who were not very happy with the protesters, I did not try to stop what they were saying in fact I wanted to hear more, if you understand Arabic you can hear some of the commentary in the video I am posting for the first time below:

Within the course of the night I realized that I arrived after the initial clash, but the battle, the hate and the rock-throwing between the two sides continued for hours on the bridge and that some protesters were dragged away by opposing civilians with the help of riot police. Television broadcasts showed protesters pelting Central Security trucks with rocks and attempting to drag drivers out from inside. Reality of the matter however is that the CSF and Military Police (MP), along with hateful volunteers and secret police all were getting in on the action, they also threw rocks, they used excessive force, and never at any point were they trying to make the clashes stop.  Even when sit-in protesters from nearby Tahrir square tried to calm the situation down, the security forces side attacked with molotovs and electric tasers.  These are things I have seen with my own eyes.  The sound of tasers going off was echoing in the air.

Some Muslims had joined the protest, the violence took on a sectarian edge as the night continued. “Copts are running this way, they’re dogs, beat them.” Other bystanders argued in favor of the protesters, explaining the church burning.

In the midst of the chaos and dodging the random tear gas canisters and rock throwing that was reaching us over the October 6th bridge, I recall talking to @AbanoubEmad, we both asked if the other was ok, physically.  He comforted me that he was out of the clashes ok, and that now he is at the Coptic Hospital were the bodies of the victims are being held, then he told me the that he shot one of the most horrific videos of his life. This video is below:

For some reason, that call, and many others I was receiving made adamant on staying on site.  An hour or so later, @Sarahngb, @Sandmonkey, @ANassouf, and @ahmedkhairy5 came back for me because I would not leave.

Roughly around 11pm, we retreated to @Sandmonkey’s place in Zamalek. @ANassouf drove us there after we walked on the October 6th bridge over the Nile to his car, which was parked in Zamalek.

Meanwhile, @Cairowire called me as her group was stuck in Zamalek, and they did not know if they can make it back across the Nile. Eventually they made their way to @Sandmonkey’s place and @Cairowire, @jonsnyder and @kwiens helped me edit the video that was uploaded to wired magazine, and @CarterTroy wrote the description of the video remotely.

The @Sandmonkey residence was filled with mixed emotions, maybe two-three interviews going on at any given point about the clashes over cellphones, exhaustion, psychotic laughs of denial, some tears, short breath, the remnants of the tear gas smell, and the scrambling of computers and social media tools. While we were there, it was announced that the Maspero downtown area will have an imposed curfew until the morning.  My initial thought, that I did not verbalize at the moment was “a curfew to clean up the blood and the aftermath of the clashes, that makes sense” moments later I found out that the State TV apparatus was in fact claiming that the “unpatriotic” Copts were attacking the military, and was calling on “Honorable Citizens” to go to Maspero and land a hand to the security forces.  That curfew made more sense then.

Hours later we broke the curfew and saw the burnt cars close to the Coptic Hospital, there was a small gathering in front of the hospital, but we were on October 6th bridge, heading towards Heliopolis. We stopped for minutes, but then carried on.

Two nights later, at the Coptic Hospital in Cairo, there was the procession of the peaceful protesters who were ran over by military vehicles  shot, dragged and beaten to death

About Ramy Yaacoub

One response to “Remembering the Maspero Massacre, October 9, 2011

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