16 October 2011
A weird sense of déjà vu gripped me as I entered the offices of the Ministry of Health in Cairo last week to seek information on the victims of attack against the Copts in Maspero on Sunday 9 October. I had taken the same errand last May, also with the purpose of seeking information on victims of an attack against Copts, but that time it had been the Copts of Imbaba.
In the wake of the Imbaba incident, health officials handed me lists of all the injured; they included Muslims besides the majority of Copts. This time, however, I was graciously given the information I required albeit verbally not as an official printed list.
This time, the numbers of victims far surpassed those of Imbaba. As I saw Mohamed Nabil, head of the hospitals department at the Health Ministry, I could not help exclaiming: “We appear to always meet under painful circumstances.” With eyes full of sorrow he looked back at me.
Despite the official numbers of victims, the actual figures, according to the health officials, cannot be determined, since many of the injured were admitted into hospitals, given first aid, and immediately discharged. It was such a mayhem that day, that their data was not always recorded.
On Monday 10 October, the Ministry of Health announced that the Maspero incident had left 329 injured, 19 of whom were treated on site, and 310 moved to hospitals. Most of the injuries were reported to have been caused by gunshot or by sharp tools leading to fractures.
The official number of the dead was 25, and their burial permits cited the causes of death to be gunshot, crushing under a heavy body, or due to injuries caused by sharp instruments.
I was informed by Shaimaa’ Mohamed, the ministry’s media coordinator, that the Minister of Health Omar Helmy had been in Paris at the time of the Maspero incident, attending a conference on medicine finances, following which he was to sign a memorandum of understanding for exchange of experience, on behalf of Egypt, with France and England. As soon as he learned of the events in Cairo, he left the conference, asked a medical councillor of the health ministry to sign the MOU, and directly returned to Egypt. He arrived in Cairo On Monday, and headed directly from the airport to the hospitals to visit the victims.
The tragedy, first hand
Iman Awad, the deputy to the head of the nursing department at the Coptic Hospital told Watani about Sunday and Monday at the hospital.
“I headed to the Coptic Hospital on Sunday early evening after I was summoned by the head nurse. As soon as I stepped in the hospital I saw bodies of the dead and wounded lying everywhere; blood filled all the hospital’s corridors and halls. The sight was sheer horror, I felt I had stepped in the middle of a slaughterhouse.
“We got down to work right away; doctors whom I had never met came in from different places. The patients who just needed stitching or healing and who could stand on their feet were treated and discharged in order to make place for others. And since the hospital does not have the facility to store more than three bodies, the other bodies were left in the corridors after having been stripped off their clothes to determine their injuries.
“Throughout my entire career, I never saw such carnage. The bodies of the dead were so disfigured; in some cases it was impossible to distinguish any facial features. Other bodies were headless or missed members.
“Several priests came in to pray for the injured and the dead. As one Abouna (Father) approached one of the dead, he found that the brain had been expelled out of the head; he took it gently, placed it on a piece of tissue paper, and prayed silently.
“I found myself part of an indescribable tragedy. Together with the other nurses, we worked as robots, in shock and disbelief. There was no place here for even a feeling of horror; this had to wait till later.
“As I left the hospital on Tuesday evening, after non-stop work since Sunday evening, there lay two bodies so absolutely disfigured, that they were unidentifiable. They held no papers to denote who they are.”
Watani later got to know that on Wednesday morning the bodies were identified and handed over to their families.