21 missing since the dispersal of Rab’a sit-in

“We have not heard anything about their fate for seven years.” Thus, 21 families spoke about the fate of their relatives who disappeared on August 14, 2013, during the dispersal of the supporters of the late Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, in Rab’a Square, east of Cairo.

Human rights organisations and initiatives have been documenting all the details of the police and army forces’ dispersal of the sit-in, the numbers of dead and injured, survivors’ testimonies, and details of cases and trials. However, no one has received a single piece of information about the fate of 21 missing since then.

According to the Jewar human rights platform, the last information available about the forcibly disappeared, since the dispersal of the sit-in and a few days after it, is that their number is 21, including two women. On August 14, 2013, army and police forces forcibly dispersed two sit-ins of Morsi supporters in Rab’a al-Adawiya (east of Cairo) and Nahdet Misr (west of the capital).

According to The National Council for Human Rights in Egypt, this operation resulted in 632 deaths, including eight police officers. At the time, local and international human rights organisations said that the number of deaths exceeded 1,000.

The international human rights organisation Human Rights Watch described the massacre as “the largest killing of demonstrators in the world within a single day in modern history.” Days after the dispersal, the figures for the numbers of victims injured and disappeared varied. At that time, the Human Rights Monitor (a non-governmental organisation based in London) documented more than 400 cases of disappearance of people in the two squares witnessed by the dispersal and their surroundings, along with nine unidentified women.

By searching for the Rab’a missing people’s fate, the stories of the missing were concluded with four endings – either that the disappeared had been killed and their bodies mutilated so that they could not be identified with DNA analysis. Or maybe they could not find them via DNA analysis because the body was deformed in a way that would make it difficult to extract the DNA from them. Then he was buried in the state’s charity cemeteries. Or, that those missing were killed during the sit-in’s dispersal and buried by the police and army secretly. The last explanation may explain how some families have confirmed the death of their relatives (by eyewitnesses) during the dispersal. Still, they did not find their bodies, and they are not registered in the lists or the reports of other organisations, despite their families holding the funeral ceremony. Finally, the last story is that the missing person was arrested and is still being held in a secret security headquarters. With the passage of days, there are still 21 people, and no one knows their fate, even though seven years have passed since the massacre.

Salma Ashraf of Human Rights Monitor says, “The unknown fate cases documented by the organisation did not appear since that date.” She added: “Nothing is known of them, whether they were killed, arrested, burned or bulldozed in the security forces headquarters (riot police) camps, or not.” What the families of the missing suffer from falls under the so-called “mysterious loss,” which is an incomplete and incomprehensible loss. Therefore, its owners struggle to search for answers to what happened to them continually.

Unlike other cases of loss, grief is postponed or frozen for these people due to their inability to accept or acknowledge the new situation. These people suffer from psychological symptoms and problems which affects their health, due to the long period of time they grieve for. Some of them suffer from constant anxiety which is reflected in sleep difficulties, hallucinations, and nervousness, which is reflected in their lifestyle, work, and social life.

According to Salma Ashraf, “neither the relatives of the missing nor their lawyers were able to reach them, despite their search for them in detention places. They took all legal measures, including making complaints and reports to the attorney general, but to no avail.” She added: “This disappearance raises many doubts about the existence of secret graves in which some bodies were buried.”

The legal unit of the Egyptian Coordination for Human Rights (non-governmental) submitted hundreds of complaints to the public prosecutor on behalf of the missing people’s families. Still, the attorney general refused to investigate these reports. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood demanded that on the seventh anniversary of the sit-in’s dispersal, the United Nations should prosecute the perpetrators of the fourth massacre. She condemned the violence on this day and accused the police forces of setting fire to the sit-in tents, removing the charred bodies with bulldozers and burying them in mass, secret graves to conceal the crime.