Grim ritual of death unfolds in Cairo morgue filled to capacity

 

Raw video: At least 42 dead in Cairo shootings

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calls for uprising


McClatchy Foreign Staff

The grim accounting of death took on a ceremony of its own at the Cairo morgue where the victims of Monday’s clash between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood were taken for the official tally.

Orange ambulances lined up in front of the squalid morgue, each holding at least one body. As soon as doctors had finished examining one body, morgue workers would call out the victim’s name. His family members would come forward, their already heightened emotions peaking as they picked up the bare wooden coffin and lifted it onto their shoulders.

The family members’ wails, coupled with their slow procession out of the government building, signaled the next paramedic to pull forward and unload another body through the front doors. One more body had moved out, making room for one more to come in.

The scene repeated throughout the day, 10 times in the span of two hours, until in the midst of madness it provided a sense of order.

Nobody could say by midday how many bodies had come through. The woman in charge of such information said she was too busy recording the names of the dead to make a tally. Egyptian health officials said that at least 51 had died, but the steady steam of dead and mourning at the morgue suggested that the number might be much higher.

Egypt is engulfed in political strife, between supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi and those who endorse the military’s decision last week to remove the increasingly unpopular and ineffectual leader. But the dawn outbreak of violence Monday at a sit-in staged by Morsi supporters shocked this hardened population, which has endured daily clashes for eight days.

The Morsi backers said they were simply praying when the army tried to clear the area, violently. The military said the protesters outside the Republican Guard headquarters, where many think Morsi is being held, had fired first.

Either way, the protesters bore the brunt of the losses. The military said its side had lost two police officers and a soldier, while the Morsi side lost four dozen or more, their losses taxing the capacity of the morgue, where every refrigerated bay was filled with a victim of violence.

As families carried their loved ones away, they prayed for mercy and cursed Abdel-Fattah el Sissi, the minister of defense and the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, as a “killer.”

Trash, linen to wrap the bodies and mourners lined the walls. Among them was Azza Khalifa, 40, whose face, all but the eyes, was covered with a traditional niqab. She rocked as she waited for her husband’s body to be released. “He was praying. Why would they do that?” she said repeatedly. Her 14-year-old son, Khalid, sat next to her and said nothing at all.

“Your time had come. You left me,” his mother kept saying. “Your time had come. . . . ”

Even at the morgue, politics were everywhere. One man who came in to identify his relative made the mistake of criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood, the secretive organization through which Morsi ascended to the presidency.

“Where are the Brotherhood leaders? They are only concerned about power and we are dying here,” he said.

The crowd surrounded him and yelled epithets. Then they began beating him.

“What are you saying?” they screamed.

Then all was forgiven. Those who were beating him kissed him on the head. And went back to waiting for their dead.

Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent.

Read more World stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
South Korean rescue team members on a boat sail to rescue missing passengers believed to have been trapped in the sunken ferry Sewol near the buoys which were installed to mark the vessel in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, April 20, 2014. After more than three days of frustration and failure, divers on Sunday finally found a way into the submerged ferry off South Korea's southern shore, discovering more than a dozen bodies inside the ship and pushing the confirmed death toll to over four dozen, officials said.

    Prosecutor says 4 ferry crewmembers detained

    A South Korean prosecutor says four more crewmembers from a sunken ferry have been detained on allegations of failing to protect passengers.

  •  
South Korean Coast Guard officers try to rescue missing passengers from a sunken ferry in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Fears rose Thursday for the fate of more than 280 passengers still missing more than 24 hours after their ferry flipped onto its side and filled with water off the southern coast of South Korea. (AP Photo/Yonhap) KOREA OUT

    Fears rise for missing in SKorea ferry sinking

    Strong currents, rain and bad visibility hampered an increasingly anxious search Thursday for 287 passengers still missing a day after their ferry flipped onto its side and sank in cold waters off the southern coast of South Korea.

  •  
South Korean rescue helicopters fly over a South Korean passenger ship, trying to rescue passengers from the ship in water off the southern coast in South Korea, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. A government office said the  passenger ship carrying about 470 people have sent a distress call off the southern coast after it began tittering to one side.

    2 dead after ferry sinks off South Korean coast

    Dozens of boats, helicopters and divers scrambled Wednesday to rescue more than 470 people, including 325 high school students on a school trip, after a ferry sank off South Korea's southern coast, killing at least two and injuring 14, officials said.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category