On Aug. 14, 2013, Mustafa’s* friend, an Egyptian police officer, called and warned him to leave the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Cairo, Egypt, immediately because a disaster was going to happen. Mustafa and his friends brushed it off and told him he was not leaving because it probably wouldn’t be too serious.
The next couple of hours he escaped death several times, saw dozens of dead people on the ground and took a bullet to his foot.
Now, four years later, he still wakes up in the middle of the night shaken up and relives those horrific moments from the dispersal of the sit-in at Rabaa.
“For months after Rabaa, I had nightmares and would wake up several times a night ready to fight someone. Inside me, I was waiting to die because I didn’t want to relive those moments again,” he said.
Mustafa, 25, had been camped out in Rabaa in Cairo, Egypt for several days to protest the ousting of the then-president Mohammed Morsi, who was democratically elected weeks before. Millions of people had gone to the streets weeks before and demanded the military to oust Morsi. The coup d’état took place on July 3, 2013.
At least 627 people died at the end of the day, although Human Rights Watch says there were 817 deaths, at least. Further, there were 10,000 injured and 21,000 arrested all in the span of 10-12 hours.
That night that the Rabaa massacre happened, Mustafa had a gut feeling that something else was going to happen as well. So, he got up from his tent that he was camped in and walked around.
“We saw military tanks and all of the sudden there were live bullets and machine guns without warning. I was in Yousuf Abbas street,” he said. “There were snipers and tear gas and nerve gas.”
Human Rights Watch has said it was “one of the largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history” and that it was “a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government.”
“I went from one tent to another and saw dead people or people severely injured,” Mustafa said, remembering the harrowing moments four years later.
“The nerve gas was making us numb and feeling paralyzed. I was in a tent and a sheikh and three other young men were with us. One of the men got shot, and so the sheikh told me to move a little so that I wouldn’t get shot.”
Mustafa had no energy to move and thought that if it was his time to die, then so be it. The next minute the sheikh got shot and his body became disfigured right in front of his eyes. “I saw his lungs and organs coming out of his body. I then got shot in my foot and started screaming out of pain as I left the tent.”
Mustafa heard a child screaming and went to ask him what was wrong and told him to duck because there were snipers.
“I went to look at his dad and saw his brains coming out of his head,” he said, remembering the chilling moments. “A car passed by and took the dead body but his brain fell out. So I picked up his brains and put it in the car so they would at least be buried with the body.”
Mustafa was able to get out alive and got treated for his injured leg. Weeks later, he migrated to the U.S., and hasn’t been back since then.
“Instead, hundreds who attended the protests, including journalists and photographers who were covering the events, have been arrested and are facing an unfair mass trial, This vacuum of justice has allowed security forces to commit serious human rights violations, including using excessive lethal force and carrying out enforced disappearances, entirely unchecked.”
“President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime has been determined to wipe out all memory of the massacre of the summer of 2013. The dark legacy of this failure to bring anyone to justice is that Egypt’s security forces today feel that they will not be held accountable for committing human rights violations,” Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International, said.
Four years later, Mustafa still gets flashbacks from the horrific massacre. “When I get those flashbacks, I will get anxiety and not sleep well. I stayed for a whole year waking up and not breathing and not knowing where I am.”
“On the anniversary of Rabaa, I always call my friends who were with me and check on them. I will never forget Rabaa,” he said.
*Mustafa’s last name was not used for security purposes.