CAIRO, Egypt - The ambulances kept streaming in to the makeshift field hospital. Limp bodies of severely injured were dragged in just off Cairo’s Mohamed Mahmoud street, which had become the focal point of the stand-off between Egypt’s military and protesters.
Short on doctors, the scene was dramatically worsening by the minute with hundreds of demonstrators suffering gun shot wounds, hit with rubber bullets or beaten with baton or exposed to tear gas overflowed into the casualty collection area.
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“Here alone we have probably seen over one thousand (casualties) in the past few hours, from minor wounds to very serious injuries,” Mohamed Kamal, a dentist turned emergency room specialist, told The Media Line. “A lot of the people will die.”
He was prophetic. According to the health ministry official numbers, at least 22 demonstrators were said to have been killed over the weekend. Activists and eyewitnesses, however, say that number is higher, possibly more than double. At one morgue alone in Cairo, at least 17 bodies lined the floor.
What began as a demonstration against the ruling military council’s tightening grip on the country ahead of national elections scheduled for next week, risks changing the face of the revolution that ousted long-time rule Husni Mubarak and setting the stage for democratic rule.
Ahmed, his head wrapped in bandages, and faced under his right eye severely bruised, was one of the luckier demonstrators Sunday night. Beaten by billy clubs wielded by soldiers, Ahmed, who asked that his family name not be used, required over 20 stitches in his head. His eyes tinged red from tear gas fired into the crowds and speaking in a surprising clam voice, he recalled how he was wounded.
“I was helping take out a man who had been shot, when I felt something smash on my head,” he began, the determination in his voice unyielding. “When I felt the heat of the blood run down my neck, I knew I was being hit by a soldier, but then other protesters intervened and pushed them back. When I looked to see what was happening, the tear gas came and my eyes began burning. Then I got hit in the face by a (rubber) bullet.”
He said three fellow demonstrators rescued him and carried him the short distance into an alley and to the field hospital that had been erected to care for the wounded. The man he had tried to help rescue suffered a worse fate. He was carried away on a gurney directly to an ambulance and whisked off to a hospital.
“I learned that the man had died from what doctors told me was a shotgun wound to the head. The military are shooting at us and people are dying,” Ahmed said.
Chaos reigned inside the hospital. Dozens of injured men and women sat against the walls, some writhing in pain, others attempting to sleep and regain their strength. Shortly before midnight, pandemonium broke out. Egyptian security forces began to fire tear gas into the field hospital area, forcing those who had been transporting people to and from ambulances, and motorbikes ferrying the wounded to scurry for safety.
A force of military police swept in like a fury, striking and beating doctors and patients alike. In less than a quarter of an hour this field hospital, one of three set up around Tahrir square, the epicenter of the protests, had been totally evacuated. Eyewitnesses called it a “crime against humanity.”
“This is unforgivable,” declared Ayman Nour, a leading opposition figure. “What we are seeing are war crimes committed against Egyptian citizens by the military.”
The tear gas at the hospital was blinding, but as people streamed from the area, activists were adamant they wouldn’t back down, telling The Media Line “The military has crossed the line. This is worse than Mubarak and we are ready to die.”
This sentiment echoed among the thousands who stayed overnight, risking their lives for what they said was “freedom” and “an end to crimes against the Egyptian people by those that claim to protect us.”
Even as the military police evacuated the hospital and pursued the
demonstrators, the defiant shouted out: “The revolution continues.”
The latest protests began after riot police attempted to forcefully
remove protesters on Saturday morning after they set up tents as part of
a sit-in in Tahrir Square. The resulting violence galvanized thousands
of Egyptians to take to the streets which have led to three days of
clashes that have plunged the nation into crisis that may have even
placed next week’s parliamentary elections in jeopardy.
When the revolt began nine months ago, the public praised the military
for staying largely out of the protests. But the ruling military council
has started to be seen as reluctant to loosen its entrenchment without
moves to ensure its key role in running any future Egyptian government.