The dead and wounded are piling up in Egypt’s hospitals. Alastair Beach, himself hit by a rubber bullet, sees the human cost of a popular uprising
30 January 2011
They started Friday dreaming of a free Egypt. They ended it lying battered and bloodied in a hospital morgue. These were the victims of a repressive regime, and their own yearning for freedom.
The day after Egypt experienced the worst street violence since President Hosni Mubarak took power 30 years ago, some of the victims were being kept in a tiny room, little more than 10ft square, off a dimly lit corridor in the basement of the French Institute Hospital in central Cairo.
There were 12 in total, nearly all of them killed by shotguns used by riot police. A couple – including one policeman – were run over by riot vans. A doctor said she could see the vehicle’s track marks embedded in the policeman’s body when his corpse was delivered to the hospital late on Friday.
It was the same story yesterday elsewhere across the city. Twenty dead at the nearby Old Quasr-El-Eini Hospital along with 500 injured. Most of the dead had been shot. A further seven died at the Matrya Hospital in northern Cairo and at least 60 more were wounded, according to one doctor working there on the night.
They were the victims of an unprecedented day of violence on the streets of the Egyptian capital.
I had followed the frontline protesters as they broke through police lines and passed east across the Nile into downtown Tahrir Square on Friday afternoon.
Soon after entering the square I found myself crouched behind a makeshift barricade in the centre of the plaza about a hundred yards away from the lines of riot police. Next to me was a middle-aged womanstill carrying her leather handbag, standing tall and screaming at the police as teargas canisters exploded around us.
By 9.20pm the protesters were pushing south of Tahrir Square, up Quasr-El-Eini Street, closer and closer to the Parliament building. As blazing cars sent plumes of choking black smoke up into the air, fearless youngsters surged forward to hurl rocks while others ducked behind huge sheets of corrugated iron or ripped up sentry boxes.
Soon the riot police emerged on to the roof of a building overlooking the street and started firing down on the demonstrators. At about 10pm I was struck in the temple by a rubber bullet and was taken to the nearby French Institute Hospital.
Very little in life prepares you for the shock of being hit by a rubber bullet. This is going to sound ridiculous, but it feels like you have been struck by a golf ball, hit very hard straight at you. Blood poured down my face, but I was more shocked than in pain.
The scenes in the hospital were chaotic. Bare-chested men, their backs streaked with shotgun pellets, were being treated in the main arrival hallway. Car after car screeched up the gangway to the main entrance where limp, bloodstained men were unloaded and hauled into the hospital. Hysterical, screaming women cried out for their relatives, while doctors holding drips rushed critical patients through the corridors on clanking stretchers.
“It was like Hell,” said Dr Ahmed Mawad, from the hospital’s intensive care unit.
“There was a continuous flow of cases. Most of them were shotgun wounds, some were run over by cars and a few had serious burns. I’ve only ever seen things like this on television in other countries, but never in Egypt.”
His colleague, Dr Nermine Ibrahim, was still working yesterday afternoon after beginning her shift at 11am on Friday. She said she had been “astonished” by the scenes she witnessed.
“I’m so depressed and so unhappy about all this mess,” she added. “I don’t know why we are still paying with our lives for freedom.”