On Thursday, July 4, a protest in Zagazig, Egypt of thousands of supporters of ousted President Muhammad Morsi resulted in hundreds of injuries with many protestors fleeing from local attackers.
Most of those attacked and chased away were women and children.
Hanan Amin, chairwoman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in the Al Sharqia Governorate, said that 10,000 people, mostly women, were marching in Zagazig, Morsi’s hometown, when thugs suddenly appeared and began attacking them with sharp and heavy objects.
“We walked 12 kilometers and were surprised when thugs started to come towards us with swords, throwing rocks and glass bottles at us,” Amin said. As the protestors ran from the attackers, the police shot tear gas at the protestors.
“The police were closing in on us and throwing molotov cocktails,” Amin said. “We started to say the shahada [testimony of faith].”
140 people have been injured with two in critical condition, Amin reported. Many women were taken to and held at the police station without being charged, while others sought refuge in nearby mosques and apartment buildings.
Zagazig resident, Adel Zidan, 58, along with his family welcomed seven of the protestors into his apartment.
“People were just trying to escape from the violence,” Zidan said. “There are 60-70 people, mostly women, hiding downstairs in the apartment entrance and on the stairs, and we have seven of them staying in my apartment.”
“People are also trapped in the mosque next to our building,” he said. “It is not safe to go out now.”
Morsi was ousted from the presidency on July 3, by the military, after tens of millions of Egyptians began protesting around the country on June 30, calling for his removal.
Independent writer and director Bassem Essam witnessed the Zagazig clashes, and took photos of the event. “Mostly women were protesting and it was very peaceful,” Essam said. “I saw no weapons with them.”
Essam said that some people claimed Morsi supporters were chanting aggressively and provoking passersby. “I am anti-Morsi, but pro-human,” he said “I don’t believe these claims because most of the protestors were women and children. I don’t think they meant any harm. What I think happened is when they got to the midtown area, they approached locations where less educated people and thugs were centered. Some people then started to throw rocks at the protestors,” Essam said. “They started running as a very large number of thugs headed towards them carrying swords and sticks. We helped the women, begging people to open their homes to help and hide them. Some were not able to help, unfortunately.”
Essam saw a group of attackers surround a bearded man, asking if he was part of the Muslim Brotherhood. “The man said he wasn’t a Brotherhood member but the thugs took him by force anyway. I couldn’t help him. I followed behind them and saw them take him to a nearby street and start beating him.”
The police were present but did not intervene.
Hoda ElSharkawi, from Massachusetts, was on a trip visiting relatives in Zagazig when she learned about the situation, calling it unfortunate.
“I was in a cab trying to go home when two ladies stormed into the taxi and said, “Go! Go! Go! They’re firing at us, the thugs are killing us. The ladies were very upset,” she said.
ElSharkawi is currently trapped at her relative’s home scared to leave because of gunshots outside the building.
“There’s a lot of anger from people who are not Muslim Brotherhood supporters. They see them [the protestors] gathering and their feeling is ‘we do not want to help you when you’re in trouble,’” she said.
“I don’t like Morsi. I was very much in favor of having him leave in a democratic way because I don’t like the army at all. I think Morsi’s ouster was a step back in democracy.”
“I saw things I didn’t want to see. I always wanted to believe that, no matter what, if people were being attacked Egyptians would come to their aid. It shook me to see what I did. It makes me feel there’s a lot of unfair and unjust people,” she said. “I don’t like the Muslim Brotherhood but I wouldn’t stand against their freedom of expression.”
* Aya Khalil is an Egyptian American freelance journalist and educator. She lives in South Carolina and has a Master’s in Education. She conducted original reporting for this piece. Follower her on Twitter @ayakhalil.