A divided Egypt converges at Zeinhom morgue

A divided Egypt converges at Zeinhom morgue

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Sun, 18/08/2013 - 15:08

Dressed in black, a woman cried bitterly over the body of a loved-one in Zeinhom morgue. Her sisters were gathering around, trying to calm her down. Black circles were seen around her eyes. Her husband lay covered in the coffin beside her. His body was covered with ice and put over a thin wooden layer so as not to be tarnished with mud.

"For us Allah sufficeth, and He is the best disposer of affairs,” she said while trying to control herself. Her brother-in-law told her that the husband Assem Mahmoud had been shot dead in his chest while inside the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in. The body was going to be medically examined so the family could get permission to bury the dead. “There’s no need to cry. Be patient and consider him a martyr,” the brother-in-law told the wife with his fingers stroking his beard.

People outside Zeinhom morgue, the main one affiliated with Egypt's Health Ministry, shouted slogans like “There’s no god but Allah.” The process of examining the dead bodies took more than 40 consecutive hours, for the first time in the morgue’s history. It lasted from Wednesday morning until Friday morning. A state of emergency was announced at the morgue for the third day in a row, in the aftermath of the dispersals of sit-ins staged at Rabaa al-Adaweya and al-Nahda squares. 500 people were killed, according to Health Ministry figures.

You could easily pick up the smell of blood and death outside the morgue. People were looking for the bodies of their dead relatives while others handed in bodies to be checked. Meanwhile, other dead bodies in white coffins were in line before the gate waiting for permissions to be buried.

Due to the long wait outside the morgue, which could take nine hours at least and 13 hours at the most, relatives and local residents placed ice boards on the bodies so as not to let them rot. The ice melted quickly. Relatives broke off the rest of the ice, putting it in small bags and distributing it among the other corpses.

On the pavement facing the morgue, everyone was waiting for a paper that declares the end of someone’s life. On the side streets, mothers were dressed in black, crying and screaming, while waiting in long lines outside the morgue. Meanwhile, relatives of the Kerdasa police station victims were there along with relatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsy victims.

“Anyone want a coffin?” said an old man, passing through the crowds. "It’s free,” he added, smiling. Young people passed between the dead bodies on the pavement and distributed water and juices among the relatives, while others placed ice and sprayed deodorant in the air, as the smell of death grew stronger.

Relatives grew impatient. One young man broke the glass sheets on the road and tried to attack a doctor. Relatives stopped him as the doctors continued to examine the hundreds of corpses. "We are doing our best!" one doctor shouted.

“This is an inhumane situation,” said Abdel Rahman Farouq, a man in his 30s who came along with his friends to help the victims’ relatives, said. Abdel heard through social media that doctors were marking the causes of death as "suicide" or "car accident" on death certificates.

At one of the morgue’s lounges, there stood Ahmed and Raafat trying to look for a wooden layer so as to place their dead uncle Tareq Mohamed on it. After finding a wooden surface, Ahmed said: “My uncle was living in Hada’eq al-Qubba. He was shot in his head and throat while trying to get out of Rabaa al-Adaweya Square after the dispersal massacre.” Raafat added: “My uncle was director of the quality sector at one of Toshiba Al-Araby company’s branches.”

Doctors inside the autopsy room were unable to conduct accurate checks on the bodies because of the huge numbers waiting outside. The road outside leading to the mosque was blocked.

According to one of the doctors, the morgue had been unable to receive any more bodies since Friday, forcing them to leave dozens outside waiting to get inside and receive a death certificate.

The morgue officials did not provide reports on the number of deaths or reasons for not transferring them to refrigerators at other governmental hospitals.

Yasser Ahmed, a medic from the ambulance authority, said he arrived at the morgue at 10 am and waited to hand in four unidentified bodies, one of them was completely charred to death, making it difficult to identify. “People left the dead bodies and continued their fights in the morning,” he said, adding: “We have in Egypt lines of deaths that are more congested than lines for bread and gasoline.”

Ahmed then answered one of the relatives and talked to a bearded man who told people around him that the victims had exceeded 3,000 . “The number doesn’t exceed 700 bodies. I went everywhere and saw most of the bodies. Fear god and stop exaggeration.”

“It was the hardest today when I saw in Nasr Institute the 22 bodies who were charred to death at Rabaa field hospital and the two brothers Ayman and Adham who died together in the square after the dispersal,” he added.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm