Seven years since the biggest massacre in Egypt’s modern history the perpetrators are free

Seven years have passed since the biggest massacre in modern Egyptian history at the sit-in in Rab’a Al-Adawiya Square in Nasr City, east of Cairo. In the early hours of August 14, 2013, Egyptian police forces, backed by army forces, dispersed the sit-ins at Rab’a Al-Adawiya Square (east Cairo) and Al-Nahda Square (west). During the operations to disperse the sit-ins, the police and army forces killed and wounded hundreds of supporters of President Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first elected civilian president.

The government said that 600 had been killed on that day – opponents said the real numbers are much higher and that the government registered hundreds as suicide, despite the fact that they had been shot. Although seven years have passed since the massacre, the wound is still bleeding, and the pain is still present, especially since the perpetrators of the massacre have not been tried. On the other hand, dozens of participants in the sit-in were sentenced to death and life imprisonment connected with the incident.

The memory of the massacre shows that many Egyptian citizens and human rights defenders in different countries are still troubled by the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators and the fact that they have not been prosecuted. On the other hand, there was a lack of justice for the victims and their families. Contrary to demands for justice, the victims were tried, sentenced to death, and imprisoned in mass trials.

The massacre anniversary

The Rab’a massacre memorial is commemorated every year amid calls for the internationalisation of the issue and the application of transitional justice.

On social media platforms, pictures and video clips with sad songs that talk about the event and make dozens of accusations against the current regime are circulated, holding it responsible for killing the protesters. Despite the massacre’s scenes of cruelty and brutality, the absence of justice and impunity throughout these years has become crueller for the victims’ families.

Observers say that the massacre has not ended, referring to the continued bleeding of innocent Egyptian blood through extrajudicial executions and medical negligence in prisons and detention centres.

Victims of the massacre

According to the coalition supporting the late President Mohamed Morsi, the number of victims of the “massacre of the century” reached 2,600 people. The field hospital in Rab’a said the same amount. The numbers provided by the Egyptian authorities and its institutions were conflicting; they stated once that the number was 288, then raised it to 377 before it released a report with a figure even higher than that.

Human Rights Watch confirmed in a report issued in August 2014 that security forces killed at least 817 protesters within a few hours during that day. The rights watchdog described what happened as one of the most brutal killings in Egypt’s modern history. It said that “the deliberate, indiscriminate use of lethal force indicates one of the major incidents of killing protesters in the world in one day, in modern history.”

The trial of the victims

The massacre’s victims turned into perpetrators to be tried and pursued, and the protesters were accused of the responsibility of killing the victims. The trial of the protesters lacked the minimum standards of justice, according to international human rights organisations. After more than three years of trying about 740 people, the Cairo Criminal Court has sentenced 75 people to death in the case known in the media as the “dispersal of the Rab’a Al-Adawiya sit-in.”

The death sentence included some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, namely Muhammad al-Beltagy, Essam al-Erian, Safwat Hijazi, Abdel-Rahman Al-Barr, Usama Yassin, Amr Zaki, and Ahmed Aref. In addition to this, the court has imposed life sentences (25 years) on 47 others, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood Leader Muhammad Badie’, Deputy Head of the Wasat Party Issam Sultan, and the former Minister of Supply Basem Odeh and others.

They have also given long prison sentences of 15 years for 374 defendants, and five years for 215 others, including the photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid, known as “Shawkan,” who was released after being in pretrial detention for more than five years.

Immunity for the perpetrators

The prosecution charged the defendants with many accusations, including organising and participating in an armed gathering in Rab’a Al-Adawiya Square, blocking roads, restricting people’s freedom of movement, and premeditated murder of citizens and the police forces charged with dispersing the sit-in. The rulings coincided with the approval of the leader of the military coup and the first person responsible for the massacre, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to a law that gives military leaders immunity from prosecution or interrogation regarding any event that occurred between July 3, 2013, and January 2016, except with permission from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

For her part, former director of the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson said that “years after the Rab’a massacre, the only response from the authorities was to try to stop the hand of justice for those responsible for these crimes.”