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Worldcrunch

As Cairo Burns, A Reporter Blends Into Muslim Brotherhood Ranks

Article illustrative image Partner logo Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo

CAIRO -  After clashes one night this week near the presidential palace, I went to a mosque near the palace. I knew it would  be open, as it was time for the dawn prayer.

I immediately recognized people from the Muslim Brotherhood, especially when I saw  my neighbor from our town on the outskirts of Giza who I knew was affiliated with the movement.

In the line to the bathroom, I could not help overhearing them talk about how they proudly succeeded in pushing the protesters away from the palace.

“We beat them hard,” said one of them, while another who had just arrived said, “We found alcohol and hashish with them.”

Outside the mosque, I saw a group of the Brothers’ opponents gathered on the corner of Merghany Street and Khalifa al-Maamoun Street, waiting to attack any passing bus, for they know the Brotherhood buses in its supporters from the provinces.

An hour later, full of anticipation and anxiety, the opponents, whose numbers were about a quarter of those of the supporters, were joined by a large wave of marchers, and soon the stone pelting began, with one party chanting “God is mighty” and “Morsi,” and the other chanting the name “Jika,” the young man who died in the violent clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street days earlier. The opponents were trying to recapture the place they were ousted from earlier in the day.

I decided to stay on the Brothers’ supporters’ side with two female journalists who were not veiled. One of them said we would be safe there because we were journalists. And we were indeed safe, except for a few suspicious looks and questions about which newspapers we worked for.

We listened to their stories about the alcohol and the dollars they found with people they detained from the other party, how some of the detainees told them about certain politicians inciting them to attack the Brotherhood, and about their “Brothers” being wounded by gunshots.

But the safe feeling began to diminish when we asked them if they had evidence proving these stories.

Walid, one of the Brothers, took me to see the captives they abducted throughout the clashes. On the way, I watched the crowd as I was walking. The people seemed to behave as if in a real battlefield. More people came to replace those at the front lines, while others picked up stones from the metro tracks.

Strength and faith

A small, red car was slowly moving among the people, with the driver speaking in a megaphone that was placed on the top. “You do this for God,” he said. “Treat the prisoners well and send them to the organizing committee.”

I asked Walid about the organizing committee. “There is a committee for everything,” he said.

I heard them cheer something I used to cheer when I was drafted in the army: “Strength... Determination...Faith.” I also heard them say, “Morsi shoots to kill.”

We passed by the ambulance to ask about the nature of the injuries. A wounded man said he was shot in the neck, but the doctor told us it was a stone. “I saw no one wounded by a bullet,” he said, but I cannot know for certain that there were no gunshot wounds because I did not speak with all the doctors.

A group of supporters asked Walid who he was. “I am a member of the Freedom and Justice Party [the Brothers’ political arm],” he told them. They asked for his membership card, but he said he forgot it and showed them a copy of the party’s newspaper. They were not convinced. “Who do you think buys this paper,” he said. “I am a Brother.”

They eventually left us after they checked my ID card and that of my colleague, and were reassured that we do not work for a newspaper they are against.

Finally, we got to the place where they keep the captives, at one of the gates to the palace. There, I saw Central Security Forces in uniform alongside more Morsi supporters in civilian attire. The CSF officer did not mind that we talk to the captives, but a man in civilian clothes forbade us. It seemed he had more authority. “There is no place for the press here,” he told us.

I was smiling at them at first, but a certain one provoked me to give him lip. At this point, more people started to approach, and another one told me to leave before they beat me.

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