Egypt: Eyewitness Account of Abbassiya Clashes

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Elections 2011/12.

Eleven people were killed and more than 160 injured near Egypt's Ministry of Defence (MOD) on May 2, 2012, after protesters demanding an end to military rule were attacked by armed men. The protestors had been conducting a sit-in over a period of days outside the MOD in the Abbassiya area of Cairo, and included many supporters of Salafi politician Hazem Salah Abu Ismail who were protesting his exclusion from the forthcoming presidential elections.

The following is an eye-witness account [ar] by blogger Bassem Zakaria El-Samragy, who was at the sit-in. Bassem writes:

امبارح بالليل طبعا زي معظم الناس معرفتش أنام وصحيت الصبح مقدرتش أعمل أي حاجة غير إني أروح على الاعتصام. نزلت محطة مترو كوبري القبة ومشيت الخليفة المأمون كله الدنيا أمان والمواصلات ماشية ومفيش أي حاجة لحد ما وصلت للاعتصام عند ميدان العباسية برضه الدنيا أمان والعدد قليل جدا في الاعتصام، وأنا ضعيف في تقدير الأعداد لكن ما أظنّش إنهم يعدّوا مئات .. وصحيح مشفتش ولا يافطة لحازم أبو إسماعيل لكن أغلب المعتصمين سلفيين وده طبعا مش معناه إنهم يُعتدى عليهم أو يُسلبوا حق من حقوقهم بأي شكل من الأشكال.
Last night, like most people, I wasn't able to sleep, and when I woke up I couldn't do anything apart from go to the sit-in. I took the metro to Kobry El-Qobba  station, and walked along El-Khalifa El-Ma'moon St [intersecting with MOD]. Everything was fine and traffic was flowing normally. There was nothing until I reached the sit-in in Abbassiya Square; everything was still fine with very few people at the sit-in. I'm not that good at estimating numbers but I don't think they were more than a few hundred. I didn't see a single Hazem Abo Ismael banner but most of the protestors were Salafists. Of course this doesn't mean they deserve to be assaulted or their rights violated by any means.
Clashes between thugs and protesters, by Abbassiya metro station. Image by Twitter user @adamakary.

Clashes between thugs and protesters, by Abbassiya metro station. Image by Twitter user @adamakary.

المهم، عديت الاعتصام ولاقيت ناس من ناحيتنا محتلة الكوبري مأمّناه (وأنا مش هاقول ثوار وبلطجية .. هاقول من ناحيتنا ومن ناحيتهم) وساحة المعركة الأساسية هي موقف أوتوبيس العباسية .. الملاحظة الأساسية هي إن الناس اللي من ناحيتنا والناس اللي من ناحيتهم شبه بعض، الفرق بس إن ناحيتنا في سلفيين كتير .. السلاح الأساسي في المعركة الطوب والمولوتوف، وشفت اتنين من الناحية التانية معاهم فِرَد خرطوش .. واللي بيحصل كالآتي: احنا محتلين ساحة موقف الأوتوبيسات كله تقريبا معظم الوقت وهم واخدين البيوت في ضهرهم والطوب والمولوتوف شغال، وفي كذا فرشة خضار اتحرقت في الموقف من المولوتوف بتاعنا، وكل شوية العيلين اللي معاهم خرطوش يضربوا علينا فنرجع لنص الموقف أو نرجع لحد ما نجيبهم عند الكوبري فالناس اللي واقفة فوق الكوبري تحدف عليهم من فوق فيرجعوا ونتقدم تاني .. وهكذا، يتقدموا فنرجع ونتقدم فيرجعوا، في معركة متكافئة لأقصى حد .. مشفتش إصابات عندهم لكن شفت عندنا إصابات أغلبها من الطوب
Anyway, I passed through the sit-in, and I found people from our side occupying and guarding the bridge (I won't say “revolutionaries” and “thugs”, I will say “from our side” and “from their side”). The main battlefield was the Abbassiya bus station. My chief remark is that people from both sides were very much alike; the only difference was more Salafists on our side. The main weapons were bricks and Molotov cocktails. I saw two people on the other side with shotguns. This is what was happening: we were occupying the bus station most of the time while the other side had the houses behind their backs as the bricks and molotovs were in the air. A vegetable stall was burnt in the bus station by one of our molotovs. Every so often one of the two guys with shotguns aimed at us so we retreated to the rear half of the station or to the bridge, until the people standing on the bridge threw bricks at them so we could move forward again. This attacking and retreating went on in a very equal battle. No injuries on their side, but I saw injuries on our side, mostly from bricks.
الناس اللي بيضربوا علينا قلت إنهم شبهنا، وفيهم حتى عيال صغيرة وناس تانية بتحدف طوب حتى بطريقة ماتدلّش على إنهم محترفين إجرام .. لكن في ناس منهم شكلهم فعلا محترفين إجرام، وفي ناس من عندنا شكلهم برضه محترفين إجرام والسلاح الوحيد اللي شفته من ناحيتنا واحد معاه مطواة كان عايز يدخل الناحية التانية يجيب واد كده كان بيحاول يستفزّنا .. (بالمناسبة، أرجوكم محدش يزايد عليا في حوار الناس اللي شكلهم محترفين إجرام ده، أنا ولا شاب برجوازي ولا طبقى وسطى ولا كل الكليشيهات دي)
I mentioned earlier that the attackers were similar to us; there were even small kids, and other people throwing bricks at us in a way that proved they were not professionals thugs. But there were also people among them who really looked like criminals, and there were some people on our side too who looked like criminals. The only weapon I saw on our side was a guy with a knife who wanted to go over to capture a guy who was trying to provoke us. (By the way, please don't start going on at me about people looking like criminals or not; I'm not bourgeois or middle class and have nothing to do with all those cliches.)
Wounded and bloodied being carried away from Abbassiya. Image by Twitter user @sharifkouddous.

Wounded and bloodied being carried away from Abbassiya. Image by Twitter user @sharifkouddous.

في ميدان العباسية العربيات بتعدّي عادي .. وشفت حالتين مرة عربية تاكسي ومرة عربية سوزوكي صغيرة معدية والناس حدفت عليها طوب لسبب مش فاهمه في حالة السوزوكي لكن في حالة التاكسي على حسب ما فهمت إن الراجل كان بيزمّر لهم علشان يعدّي .. وشفت حالة تانية لواحد كان ماشي وبيقول كلام من نوعية خربتوا البلد فواحد من ناحيتنا قلع له الحزام وكان هيدبّ فيه لولا الناس حاشته .. سمعت من أكتر من حد كلام عن الإحباط وعن إنها شكلها كده مش هتخلص إلا لو جبنا سلاح .. أنا مشفتش سلاح بعيني لكن كان في ناس بتتكلم عن “رغبة” مش “نية” في إنهم يجيبوا سلاح وذخيرة
الخلاصة: أنا أول مرة أبقى متلخبط لأن اللي بيدبّوا من الناحيتين زي ما قلت شبه بعض .. شكلهم مدني وماستبعدش يكون في بلطجية في الناحيتين فالموقف الأخلاقي فعلا صعب
In Abbassiya Square the cars were passing by normally; in only two cases I saw people throwing bricks at a taxi and a small Suzuki car as they passed. I didn't understand why for the Suzuki, but with the taxi from what I understood the driver was honking hard in order to pass. In another case a passing pedestrian was shouting some words like “They destroyed the country”, so someone from our side took off his belt to attack that guy, but people stopped him. Several times I heard frustrated comments that it wouldn't end without weapons. I didn't see weapons but there were people talking about a desire, not just an intention, to bring arms and ammunition.
In short: for the first time ever I felt confused because the two sides really looked alike, as I said. They looked like civilians, but I'm not saying there weren't thugs on both sides. Morally speaking the situation is really complicated.

This post is part of our special coverage Egypt Elections 2011/12.


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