- Middle East/North Africa
Despite news about pro-President Mohamed Morsy groups dispersing a sit-in of secular opponents at the presidential palace and although the scene promised a potential civil war, I could not help when I came to the vicinity of the palace Wednesday night but to look for a bathroom.
I knew there was a mosque near the palace that should be open, as it was time for the dawn prayer, so I went down.
There, I saw queues of people waiting to go to the bathroom. I immediately noticed that most of them were from the Muslim Brotherhood, especially when I saw among them my neighbor who lives in my town on the outskirts of Giza and whose affiliation to the movement I was aware of.
In the queue to the bathroom, I could not help overhearing them talk about how they proudly succeeded in pushing the protesters away from the palace.
“We beat them hard,” said one of them, while another who had just arrived said, “We found alcohol and hashish with them.”
When I approached the ablution area, I saw a tall bearded man bleeding from a wound in the back of his head. Giving him napkins to wipe the blood, another man told him, “God will bless you for your good deed.”
The wounded man was wearing thick cloth rolls, wrapped around his stomach from his lower chest. Those around him thought it was to protect him from stones or bullets, but one of them said it was a belt for losing weight.
By now, there were two men before me in the queue. Apparently they did not know each other, but they knew they were both “Brothers,” which was enough for them to talk affectionately.
“They look strange,” said the first, pointing at the opponents. “Indeed they do,” said the other. “Beating them is the only way.”
Outside the mosque, I saw a group of the Brothers’ opponents gathered on the corner of Merghany Street and Khalifa al-Maamoun Street, waiting to attack any passing bus, for they know the Brotherhood busses in its supporters from the provinces.
An hour later, full of anticipation and anxiety, the opponents, whose numbers were about a quarter of those of the supporters, were joined by large marches, and soon the stone pelting began, with one party chanting “God is mighty” and “Morsy,” and the other chanting the name “Jika,” the young man who died in the violent clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street days earlier. The opponents were trying to recapture the place they were ousted from earlier in the day.
I decided to stay on the Brothers’ supporters’ side with two female journalists who were not veiled. One of them said we would be safe there because we were journalists. And we were indeed safe, except for a few suspicious looks and questions about which newspapers we worked for.
We listened to their stories about the alcohol and the dollars they found with people they detained from the other party, how some of the detainees told them about certain politicians inciting them to attack the Brotherhood, and about their “Brothers” being wounded by gunshots.
But the safe feeling began to diminish when we asked them if they had evidence proving these stories, such as a pictures of what they found. And when more people gathered around us, we felt we should go.
Walid, one of the Brothers, took me to see the captives they abducted throughout the clashes. On the way, I watched the crowd as I was walking. The people seemed to behave as if in a real battlefield. More people came to replace those at the front lines, while others picked up stones from the metro tracks.
A small, red car was slowly moving among the people, with the driver speaking in a megaphone that was placed on the top. “You do this for God,” he said. “Treat the prisoners well and send them to the organizing committee.”
I asked Walid about the organizing committee. “There is a committee for everything,” he said.
I heard them cheer something I used to cheer when I was drafted in the army: “Strength... Determination...Faith.” I also heard them say, “Morsy shoots to kill.”
We passed by the ambulance to ask about the nature of the injuries. A wounded man said he was shot in the neck, but the doctor told us it was a stone. “I saw no one wounded by a bullet,” he said, but I cannot know for certain that there were no gunshot wounds because I did not speak with all the doctors.
A group of supporters asked Walid who he was. “I am a member of the Freedom and Justice Party [the Brothers’ political arm],” he told them. They asked for his membership card, but he said he forgot it and showed them a copy of the party’s newspaper. They were not convinced. “Who do you think buys this paper,” he said. “I am a Brother.”
They eventually left us after they checked my ID card and that of my colleague, and were reassured that we do not work for a newspaper they are against.
Finally, we got to the place where they keep the captives, at one of the gates to the palace. There, I saw Central Security Forces in uniform alongside more Morsy supporters in civilian attire. The CSF officer did not mind that we talk to the captives, but a man in civilian clothes forbade us. It seemed he had more authority. “There is no place for the press here,” he told us.
This prompted the crowd to shout slogans against the media and order us to leave. “The Brotherhood channel is the best,” they shouted.
I was smiling at them at first, but a certain one provoked me to give him lip. At this point, more people started to approach, and another one told me to leave before they beat me.