Middle East

1,000 days since Cairo massacre, families look for missing loved ones

Since Cairo’s infamous Rabaa sit-in massacre, scores of people still remain unaccounted for

1,000 days since Cairo massacre, families look for missing loved ones

By Rabia al-Sokkary


The mother of Egyptian student Omar Hammad, 22, has left no stone unturned in an effort to find the whereabouts of her son, who has been missing since the violent dispersal of a sit-in set up in Cairo by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

“He disappeared on the day the Rabaa sit-in was dispersed,” Badriya Mohamed told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.

“Since then, we haven’t found him; we don’t know whether he’s alive or dead.”

The bereaved mother says her son, an engineering student, disappeared while on his way to his faculty at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, which is located close to where the sit-in was held.

“Some of his friends saw him suffering gunshot wounds [after the sit-in dispersal],” she said. “One of his friends also said that he saw him in a police vehicle.”

In mid-August 2013, Egyptian security forces violently cleared two major sit-ins staged by Morsi supporters in eastern Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square and Giza’s Nahda Square some five weeks after Morsi was ousted in a military coup.

According to the state-run National Human Rights Council, the dispersal of both protest camps that day left 632 people, including eight policemen, dead.

But the National Alliance for the Defense of Legitimacy, Morsi's main support bloc and the sit-ins’ main organizer, puts the death toll in the thousands.

In a report based on a year-long investigation, Human Rights Watch said at least 817 demonstrators were killed that day in Rabaa Square and another 87 in Nahda Square.

The London-based Human Rights Monitor, meanwhile, has documented more than 400 cases of people who disappeared from both squares.

Grasping hope

One thousand days since the Rabaa sit-in was dispersed, the bereaved mother still hopes to hear word of her son.

“I just want to know the fate of my boy,” Mohamed told Anadolu Agency, fighting back her tears.

Mohamed says she has reported her son’s absence to the police and looked for him in all hospitals and prisons nationwide -- but to no avail.

The bereaved mother finally heard -- from some lawyers and police officers -- that her son was being held in a military prison in northeastern Cairo.

“But I was unable to ascertain whether he was inside the prison,” she said.

“I have a strong feeling he is alive; I’m waiting for the moment to take him into my arms,” she added.

Mahmoud Ibrahim, 30, a laborer, also went missing when the Rabaa sit-in was dispersed.

“I have heard nothing about my husband since our last phone call on the day of the dispersal,” Radwa, a mother of two, told Anadolu Agency.

She has looked everywhere in hopes of getting a tip-off about the fate of her husband.

“Though 1,000 days have now passed since the dispersal, I still have hope of hearing about him,” she said.

Radwa co-founded an NGO devoted to helping people find loved ones who disappeared during the sit-in dispersals.

She has been to several prison compounds in an effort to find information about her husband and other missing people.

“We weren’t the only ones looking for people who disappeared,” Radwa said. “There are scores of people whose families don’t know whether they are alive or dead.”

Radwa says her two sons have wanted to leave Egypt since their father’s disappearance.

“Children are quite aware of the injustices being done to their families,” she said. “My children want their father back and then leave the country.”


Mohamed al-Sayed Ismail, 59, disappeared ten days after the Rabaa sit-in dispersal after being stopped by security forces while returning to his home in the Sharqiya province in Egypt’s Nile Delta.

“We heard from a prisoner at the Al-Zouli military prison that my father was being held there,” Ismail’s daughter, Sarah, told Anadolu Agency.

“Until today, we know nothing about his fate,” she said.

Sarah, who has six brothers and sisters, said she has a message to those who abducted her father.

“I tell them that we want our father back,” she said.

Ezzat Ghoneim of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), an NGO, said that 1,840 people disappeared in 2015 alone.

“While 1,238 of them have since reappeared, there are 336 people whose fate remains unknown,” he said.

Salma Ashraf of the London-based Human Rights Monitor says that involuntary disappearance has become policy for the Egyptian authorities since the 2013 military coup that unseated Morsi.

“Hundreds of people have been disappeared,” Ashraf said, adding that Egypt’s state-run rights council had been notified of the cases.

The Egyptian authorities, for their part, deny claims by rights groups that they are actively “disappearing” opponents, insisting that all those currently in prison face criminal charges.

Egypt has been racked by turmoil and violence since the military unseated Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, after only one year in power.

In the almost three years since Morsi’s overthrow, hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands thrown behind bars.

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