I was there
Mattariya is an Islamist stronghold in the heart of Cairo. I was there on Sunday 25 January when the Muslim Brothers (MB) demonstrated to mark the fourth anniversary of the Arab Spring. As expected, violence was the rule of the day.
In front of Mattariya police station, clashes erupted between the MB and the police. The MB used gunfire, threw Molotov bombs, hurled stones at lampposts, and torched a bus, two taxi cabs, a restaurant, and a police armoured vehicle. They shouted cries against the police and the army.
A MB march set off from Mattariya to neighbouring Ain Shams, another hotbed of Islamism where they met another group of Islamists and joined forces. The police attempted to disperse them with tear gas, but the street fighting did not stop and this drove the locals to panic. Those who ventured out ran the risk of being shot by MBs who had stationed themselves on the rooftops. Such bullets caught the two boys Muhammad in the arm and Mina in the throat.
Among the dead in Mattariya and Ain Shams were three Copts: the schoolboy Mina Maher, 11; fruit vendor Ashraf Ibrahim, 37; and Peter Saad, a young man in his twenties who worked in a mobile phone shop.
Ashraf Ibrahim went down on that fateful day to tend to his fruit shop but was shot to death. His brother, Akram Ibrahim told Watani that the unrest began following noon prayers at the mosque. “The Islamists clashed with the police,” he said. “My brother was hit by a stray bullet the source of which we don’t know. We rushed him to hospital, but he breathed his last.”
Ashraf leaves behind a young daughter and an unborn baby. “It is difficult for us to close shop,” he said. “The fruit business feeds an extended family of five small families. It is our livelihood. How can we feed these mouths otherwise?”
Akram’s maternal uncle, Adel Hanna, insisted that the death should be investigated and the killer caught. “We demand justice,” he said.
The MB, according to Hanna, use Mattariya and Ain Shams to hide from the police, exploiting the fact that the intricate web of narrow allies there make it very difficult for police vehicles to navigate. “They turn our lives into living hell every Friday with their demonstrations and violence. But this time it was different. There were larger numbers of them and they assaulted the police fiercely. Many unarmed civilians were caught in the crossfire.
“The police must put an end to this terror,” he said. “The State has to protect us against them. How long will we live under this terror?”
That was exactly the same demand voiced by the wailing, heartbroken mother of the 11-year-old Mina Maher. A widow since her son was very little, she has a 15-year-old daughter who was equally grieved at the loss of her sibling. “How can it be that a boy goes out to buy food and is brought back a dead body?” the mother wept. “How can this be? What did he do to deserve this?”
Mina’s uncle Ra’fat Qaldass told Watani that Mina had gone down with his friend Muhammad to buy a few things. “Amid the clashes that took place,” Qaldass said, “the MB stationed themselves on rooftops and started shooting randomly at the policemen below. A stray bullet hit Muhammad in the arm. Mina turned to help him when he too was hit by a bullet that pierced his throat. He died right away.”
Mina was an altar boy at the local church, Qaldass said. That Sunday morning, the uncle said, he had gone to church to attend Holy Mass and have Communion. It’s as though he was getting ready to leave this world and go to Heaven.”
28 January 2015