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An Egyptian woman mourns over a coffin which allegedly contains the body of one of the 37 Islamist prisoners who suffocated on tear gas that was fired after they took an officer hostage on their way to a main prison, at the Zeinhom Morgue in Cairo on August 19, 2013. Militants killed 25 policemen in the deadliest attack of its kind in years, as Egypt's army-installed rulers escalated a campaign to crush ousted president Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. The assailants fired rocket-propelled grenades at two buses carrying police in the Sinai Peninsula, sources said, just hours after 37 Brotherhood prisoners died in police custody. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Humiliated after death

Markus Symank, Cairo / ng
August 20, 2013

Hundreds of supporters of ex-President Mohammed Morsi were killed in Egypt last week. A visit to a Cairo morgue suggests that their families are being systematically bullied by the government.


There are five refrigerated trucks parked in front of Cairo's central morgue. Their cargo: dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of dead bodies.

Some of the dead were delivered by security forces last weekend, some have even been here for six days waiting to be collected. There is no room for more bodies inside the building.

Since the massacre last Wednesday (14.08.2013) of more than 400 supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, carried out by the police and the army, the morgue has been hopelessly overcrowded.

Whenever an employee opens the door to a truck, the stench of decaying bodies fouls the air in the narrow alleyway. Even the enormous piles of rubbish in the streets cannot mask the smell, nor can the scented candles and incense residents are using.

Organs apparently taken without consent

Ibrahim is one of five teenagers who arrived from Gizeh this morning to identify the body of a friend who has been missing since last Wednesday.

All the family and friends knew was that the missing youth had been protesting against the military coup that day, alongside other supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood at the University of Gizeh.

On Friday, his parents were phoned by the police, who told them that their son had been arrested and was being questioned. On Monday night, the phone rang again, this time it was the morgue.

Residents in front of the Cairo morgue (August 2013); Copyright: Markus Symank
Residents use incense sticks to fight the stench of dead bodiesImage: Markus Symank

"His body is completely decomposed, I barely recognized him," one of the young men says. He added that the coroners had cut open the body and taken out the heart and other organs.

According to the teenager, he was told the organs were taken away for research purposes - without the family's consent.

State media remains mum

His statements tally with many reports from other victims' relatives. Many families were not notified of the death of a loved one until a few days afterwards. Some bodies were so mutilated they could not be positively identified.

While worried relatives stand in line at the morgue to trawl through long lists of the deceased, state television repeatedly shows the funeral of the 25 police officers allegedly killed by terrorists on the Sinai peninsula on Monday (19.08.2013).

The policemen received state funerals, their coffins draped in the national flag. Dignitaries from the influential Al-Ahzar mosque and government representatives attended to pay their last respects, accompanied by patriotic hymns.

Meanwhile the dead bodies piling up in the streets of Cairo are not mentioned by the Egyptian media. Reports about the stories of ordinary Egyptians who lost their lives are nowhere to be found.

The bodies of dead Morsi supporters in refrigerated trucks (August 2013); Copyright: Markus Symank
Corpses are piled in the trucks, since there is no more room in the morgueImage: Markus Symank

Row over cause of death

State media is also ignoring the humiliating treatment of the victims' relatives.

The friends from Gizeh have been waiting for over two hours for the death certificate. Islam stipulates that their friend should have been buried already.

But the officials have another surprise in store - they demand that the victim's friends accept suicide as the cause of death on the certificate, which the friends refuse.

The official did not want to comment on the incident when asked by DW. Reports by other relatives suggest this happens a lot, possibly to keep down official tallies of the number of people killed.

Human rights activists believe that the death toll is much higher than official figures suggest.

Residents sympathetic

The residents who live near the morgue in Cairo's historic but dilapidated Saida Seinab district feel for the victims' families. The imam of the local mosque has tried to get volunteers to supply waiting relatives with masks against the stench as well as cool water.

While young men help to carry the coffins, others stop by to express their sympathy. Some have even changed their political views.

"On June 30, I - along with many other Egyptians - stood on Tahrir Square calling for the military's return. Now, I feel ashamed," one elderly man says. He looks thoughtful.

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