The room was filled with wounded men, women, and crying children. On one side was a pile of dead bodies. Several people were doing whatever they could to save some lives. We saw a man laid down on the floor with a bullet injury that had chopped off part of his skull. Next to him, another man had a bullet wound that had taken off his right cheek, writes Mohamed Mohamed.
Stepping carefully between dead bodies and the injured, we reached the corner where they stacked first aid kits. My wife, who is also a medical graduate, grabbed intravenous line catheters, gauze, cotton, and antiseptics. She put everything in a plastic bag, and we joined the volunteer medical teams. With the few available medical supplies, we couldn’t do much but control bleeding wounds, insert IV lines, and run resuscitative fluids.
It was the summer of 2013, and my family and I were back in Egypt for our annual vacation. I am a doctor working in the United States. We had arrived just a few weeks after the July 3rd coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president.
We decided to go to Rabia Square, where Morsi’s supporters and others opposed to the coup were holding a large sit-in. We wanted to know why tens of thousands of people would live in the streets in the intense heat of a Cairo summer. At Rabia, we met doctors, teachers, lawyers, professors, university students, mechanics, plumbers and construction workers—men and women, mostly young. After many discussions, we concluded that these people believed they were defending their democratic voice and were not going to leave unless it was restored.
Early on the morning of August 14, the live stream from the sit-in on Al Jazeera showed a state of apprehension among the protesters. At the same time, I was reading Facebook posts that described armored vehicles and hundreds of military and state security forces surrounding the square from all directions. After leaving our kids safely with a relative, my wife and I rushed to ground zero.
We managed to make it through before police and military personnel sealed off the intersection. Arriving at the heart of Rabia Square around 6:50 a.m., we headed directly toward the makeshift field hospital, but were told it was already full. We followed a group of young men carrying an injured person to a nearby hall. We stopped at the door, speechless.
Most of the people had head, neck, chest, and abdomen injuries. Some had been hit in the arms or thighs, riddled with bullets that had broken their bones. I saw a woman shot in her chest and a young teenager with a fatal gunshot wound to his head. I saw several infants struggling to breathe from the dense teargas shot everywhere at the sit-in. We treated the injured on the floor, on stairways, and literally stacked on top of each other.
At around 11:30, my wife and I helped move a few injured protesters to a private hospital building behind the Rabia Mosque. Soon, this six-floor hospital got filled with dead bodies and hundreds of injured protesters. Later, my wife and I went through each floor to check on injuries and renew intravenous fluids. In every wing, we saw dozens of dead bodies wrapped in white sheets on the floor. One man showed us a body burned to the bone.
After two emergency medical responders were killed, no paramedics were able to approach the hospital. Only one would bring his ambulance as close as possible from the back streets, where young men volunteered to carry the severely injured to the ambulance, hiding from snipers behind cars and trees.
Through the day, sporadic gunfire struck the hospital gates and windows, but after 3 p.m., it got more intense with the sound of automatic gunfire. At the same time, there was another influx of injured men, overwhelming the already full hospital, most fatally shot in the head or chest. We had to kneel down on the floor to receive them while hiding from the shooting. Later; we had to move into inner rooms to avoid bullets zinging through the hospital gates. We reached a point where there was no more space, and we had to pile dead bodies on top of each other to make room for the new injuries coming in.
Around 5:40 p.m., Special Forces officers raided the hospital. One arrived at our door and told everyone to run for their lives, leaving the dead and injured behind. With an automatic gun pointed at their heads, most of the medical team and injured people who could walk left. My wife and I remained, surrounded by five injured men. We tried to help one man with a gunshot wound to his leg. The angry officer knocked us down and refused to let him leave. With his gun directed at us, we were forced to leave. On our way out, we heard an explosion coming from the side of the mosque and the field hospitals. Being coerced to leave and surrounded by gunned security officers, we could not go back to check if there were any injured.
We’ve been home for a year, but my wife and I still relive that day, every day. We try to immerse ourselves in daily routines to keep life going, but we can’t forget, and it doesn’t seem we ever will. Our relatives are alright, but we haven’t returned to Egypt since then.
The unbelievable cruelty and complete disregard for human life we witnessed was far more than I would expect in a battlefield. It was an intentional crime against Egyptians by their own police and military forces. It was a crime against humanity and those who committed it have to be brought to justice. If not, other oppressors in other parts of the world will have the courage to do the same against their own people.
Dr. Mohamed Mohamed is a physician living in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.