Rabaa al-Adawiyah: Images From the Square Before the Bloody Crackdown in Egypt

Members of the Egyptian army walk among the smoldering remains of what had been the largest protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. [Courtesy of AP]

Members of the Egyptian army walk among the smoldering remains of what had been the largest protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. [Courtesy of AP]

It was a hot afternoon in Cairo, and the protesters camped at Rabaa al-Adawiyah mosque knew better than to strain under the scorching July sun. So they sat under makeshift tents, some reading the Qur’an, others chatting, while silver-bearded men said prayers with their beads.

It was the first time I visited Rabaa Square, located in Nasr City, the largest district in Egypt’s capital, Cairo. The square, located east of the capital, has become the latest addition to the squares that have come to symbolize the Arab world’s revolution against dictatorship and tyranny.

Rabaa is one of two squares where supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi have been camping since the military removed him from power on July 3. By the time I got to Rabaa, the army was holding Morsi for more than a week, and protesters were chanting slogans against the head of armed forces General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi deep into the night.

The holy month of Ramadan had also started, and mist was sprayed to cool down the protesters. Businesswomen cooked food to sell to those fasting during iftar, and hawkers shouted, advertising their goods ranging from Egyptian flags to turbans, bottled water, candy and dates.

Now, after six weeks of political deadlock, and two weeks since the army warned demonstrators to end their sit-ins and clear the square, events there have turned on their heel. At around 7 a.m. Tuesday, the military conducted a crackdown using a mix of bulldozers, armored vehicles, tear gas and live ammunition. The raid on the protesters left almost 600 people dead, including 43 police officers, according to the Ministry of Interior, while thousands others were injured. The army announced a month-long state of emergency and a curfew across a number of cities that will run from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The killings at the Rabaa Square has caused a global uproar, with many leaders from the international community condemning the bloody crackdown and asking the Egyptian army to act with restraint. In an editorial, the Guardian newspaper said the army’s bloody assault on the “largely peaceful sit-ins” at Rabaa Square became “Egypt’s Tiananmen,”in reference to the day in June 1989 when the Chinese government used disproportionate force to clear out student protests in Beijing.

With the square now clear of demonstrators, General Sisi has already ordered that the mess in Rabaa be renovated at the cost of the army, according to the state newspaper Al-Ahram.

But as one friend, who wrote to me from Cairo last night, said: “This chaotic situation is far from over. It is sad that this mess is not done just yet. Violence only begets violence.”

Egyptian Flag

Egypt’s three-colored flag waves in Rabaa Square in Cairo located in east Cairo. The square has become the center where thousands of supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi had been camping, demanding for his reinstatement.


Mohamed Morsi was the first democratically elected president of Egypt, following the historic revolt that ended the 30-year rule of his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. A year into his presidency, large-scale demonstrations broke out in the country calling for his resignation and a call for an early presidential election. When Morsi refused the military’s call to meet the demands of the people in 48 hours, he was arrested and is still believed to be in military custody.


“Sisi is a killer,” reads this graffiti, which I took a few blocks from Rabaa Square. General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, is considered the man who orchestrated the ouster of President Morsi. In July, Sisi called for mass demonstrations to give him the “mandate … to take firm action against violence and terrorism.”


This banner, hanging near the stage in Rabaa Square, shows General Sisi taking oath of office as Minister of Defense in front of then President Morsi. In the current post-Morsi political structure, Sisi was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister and still remains the Minister of Defense.


Banners like this, which criticize the army’s decision to remove the duly elected president from power, dot Rabaa Square.


A man hangs pictures of Morsi in Rabaa Square. Snipers were reportedly shooting at the crowds and journalists during the crackdown on Tuesday from the building in the background.


This poster put up near the Rabaa Field Hospital asks all demonstrators to keep the square clean, and to pay respect to the people living in the neighborhood. In early August, Al Jazeera news website reported that local residents in Rabaa Square “were tired of constant protest” and had set up a Facebook page to air their complaints. “Possible Tens of thousands are camping in every nook and cranny of what feels like a cross between a refugee camp and a neglected concert fairground,” the report said.


A group of protesters in Rabaa look into a banner with a list of demands that should be initiated after the “coup is reversed and the legitimate government of Morsi reinstated.”

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