One year ago today in the early morning hours, the Egyptian military opened fire on a peaceful demonstration by Coptic Christians demanding greater rights and justice for attacks on churches in Upper Egypt. The military claimed, for the first time, that “invisible hands” were behind the violence.
But Bikyamasr.com staff present when the violence began told a very different story. Armored vehicles ran people over in a display of indiscriminate violence not seen in the country since the January uprising 9 months earlier. It was a shock for the country, but also a sad reality that Egypt was to revisit for months to come.
Egypt’s TV 25 was at the frontlines, a building directly across from the state television building, or Maspero, where they witnessed unimaginable horrors it what has come to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” or “Maspero Massacre.”
On October 9, the channel’s offices became a scene of unthinkable military and police brutality.
The testimony of the violence that those at TV 25 witnessed confirms an untold dimension of systematized Coptic discrimination to the already harrowing details of the Maspero military violence, that left 27 dead and over 300 wounded.
Military police and plain clothes thugs came to TV 25’s offices three times on the evening of the protest, looking for 17 demonstrators, including one Muslim man and one Coptic priest, who were afforded refuge from the evening’s violence in a bathroom of the office.
Mohamed Gohar, the founder of TV 25, spoke with Bikyamasr.com, recounting the painful details of the attack on his office that evening, and his own role in affording the 17 demonstrators the amnesty they needed to escape the bloodshed on the street.
“I walked over bodies all my life. I have covered all the wars in the world. But this time was the hardest and the most difficult time because I walked … on my family’s bodies,” recounted Gohar, who is a veteran NBC cameraman, as the pain of the evening washed over his face.
The TV 25 building, next to Maspero, quickly filled with protesters seeking refuge from military guns to lay down the bodies of the dead and wounded.
“After about five minutes there were four dead bodies and about 35 injured people, and there were no ambulances coming. We used our personal car, but all the roads were blocked. Thugs and the army were trying to stop us from removing the injured people in our own cars.”
Gohar discovered that 17 demonstrators, including one priest and one Muslim, had climbed the stairs of the office to seek protection. He took charge of the situation, and put all of them into a bathroom of the office.
“Four army officers came to raid the office. They went through the office like crazy looking for them. They asked all of us to lie down on the floor—while we were still on the live transmission.
“There was one girl who was four and a half months pregnant. They told her to lie down and she shouted while she was still standing. Her name is Shereen. They put a machine gun on the back of her head.”
The officers found one Coptic man in the office, and beat him with the butts of their machine guns. Muslim employees of the station traded ID cards with other Copts in the office, saving them from the same fate.
When the officers could not find the hidden demonstrators, they left, returning again with more than 30 soldiers.
“They smashed all the glass and all the furniture in every room they entered. They went on the roof. They smashed the home of the bowab who lives with his family on the roof. They smashed all of his furniture.”
The one place they didn’t enter was the bathroom where the Copts were hidden.
“A third wave of officers came in civilian clothes at 2:30 in the morning. They asked everyone where the Copts were hiding. I never imagined that one day someone would come here with such a racist idea,” he related, mournfully.
The next morning, Gohar helped the men out of their bloodied clothes and into clean ones. He released them one by one from the office.
“They would go home and call us and tell us where there is a safe path so that the second one could leave. There were still a lot of people out checking cars and checking for crosses on people’s hands.
“They would smash the car whenever they found a cross,” he continued.
“The last one who left was the priest. He said he had to go to the funeral for the protesters. He refused to take off his cassock, so the last thing I did was give him a Qur’an.”
Gohar said that a friend of the priest’s confirmed with him that he made it to the funeral safely.
The events at the TV 25 office that night lend disturbing evidence to the idea that the violence against the protesters was deeply systematic and rooted in anti-Coptic energy.