Charlie Miller and I were on our way to catch the tail end of the clearing of Nahda Square when we heard reports of clashes in Mohandiseen. We adjusted our course and sped off down Batal Ahmed Abdel Aziz Street only to see a cloud of black smoke at the intersection ahead. Our driver decided he had gone far enough.
Jogging up the road to get a better view it became apparent that there was a large vehicle on fire. The tear gas drew white streaks across the black smoke and it hung heavy in the air. The sounds of birdshot were intermingled with that of live ammunition.
Suddenly it stopped and the police retreated. Emerging from the dark smoke men came running down the road dragging a traffic barrier, one wearing a police helmet. With a slight smile this man told me that he had just stolen it from a policeman.
We moved further up the road to discover the vehicle on fire was in fact a police truck. As I reached for my phone to take a picture a man came running towards us screaming “no pictures!” He demanded to know who we were and what we were doing, “give them a chance,” he said.
On the main road of Gameat El Dawel more vehicles were burning. Some people seemed to strongly resent that we were witnessing this and if it wasn’t for a couple of guys stepping in to calm the situation it could have become problematic. One man said they intended to start a new sit-in. “We cannot go back to Nahda, we cannot go back to our homes. We will stay here. He, like many others in Mustafa Mahmoud Square told me it is not about Mohamed Morsi, it is about legitimacy and the value of their vote.
Men were running around dragging benches to strengthen the barricades, even ripping out poles bearing street signs. This entire time people were hitting anything they could to create an intimidating clamour. A large group of women were huddled around the entrance of Hardees, many bending down to grab stones off the ground. The employees of Hardees were stuck inside and looked extremely concerned.
Out of nowhere shots were fired but it wasn’t clear from where. Many began looking upwards to the tall residential buildings but nobody could see clearly where the shots were coming from.
Shouts of “thugs” rang out and men began pouring towards the front line. The shooting began again, as did the clattering sound of sticks against poles. The response to our presence now had changed, we were now being begged to go and take pictures at the front line.
The first casualty I saw was carried around the corner, blood on both sides of his shirt, a chest wound. He had lost consciousness and was not showing any clear signs of life. Still the men carrying him frantically loaded him onto the back of a motorcycle. The men who carried him screamed frantically and the driver urged people to move out of the way and eventually sped off with the wounded man leaning lifelessly on the driver.
I found my way back to Charlie who had also just seen a young man, no older than 17, suffer a bullet wound through his neck. We looked around and grown men were crying, their arms covered in blood, and the shooting continued on Batal Ahmed Abdel Aziz.
The fighting took place on the T-junction so we were on edge as to where the security forces might come from. The firing intensified so we ran for cover. Ducking behind a Kiosk we took stock and then heard the zipping noise of a bullet passing close to us.
Some local residents had also come to take cover with us. They had decided to come and see what was happening. They were shocked to see two Brits huddled up behind a kiosk and wished us luck as we moved on.
In an attempt to get around the back of the CSF we headed for the back streets where we found a man being helped into a black Mercedes. One of the doormen of the building told me that he was hit in the stomach as he watched the battle unfold from his balcony. His family was visibly shaken and piled into the car with him.
When we returned to the junction four ambulances seemingly flew down the empty street by the time we caught up they had loaded up and sped off again. we were met by more people pleading with us to report what they were saying. One young man stood silently with tears in his eyes a bandaged nose and a large bloodstain on his bright green t-shirt. I asked him what happened and he turned and said, “this is the blood of my friend” and not a word more.
We walked round to the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque and saw that Batal Ahmed had been fortified with a wall and blazing vehicles further down the road. A pool of blood had been cordoned off for display. I was able to purchase some phone credit from a kiosk that was doing a roaring trade around the corner from the front-line.
Hundreds more were arriving from the other side of the mosque and the Imam called for staggered prayers so the area could be protected while others prayed. More local restaurant workers looked out of the glass frontage, maybe deciding if they should stay or risk coming outside.
As the prayers began the shooting continued around the corner on Batal Ahmed. Charlie nudged me and whispered, “Guns, under his scarf.” I looked and a man with his face covered was holding something concealed under a scarf, poking out the bottom was the barrel of a rifle. Behind this man another was carrying a similarly shaped package but had wrapped it more carefully, another was trailing behind carrying a large, heavy looking bag. I was too scared to take a picture. If you don’t believe this is true then that is your issue and I don’t care, we know what we saw.
The gunfire continued and the praying men were unfazed, two Salafi Sheikhs atop a makeshift stage led the prayers. We approached the front but then we heard the automatic gunfire and decided not to go running towards it. The men we had just seen with the guns had the opposite reaction, jogging towards Batal Ahmed with a magazine ready for loading in plain sight.
It was at this point we called it a day. We went to visit my old landlady to see if she was ok, she complained that her building was empty and that the situation around the corner wasn’t going to help.
We got back to the office and were debriefed by our editor, told to wash our faces, which were apparently black with dirt. Seeing the man who had sustained the bullet wound was imprinted in my head, and I know Charlie had the same issue. Others have seen much worse and I expect I will too, but no loss of life is insignificant.
The attempt to establish a sit in at the junction and the surrounding area was violent and bloody. Charlie returned the next day and found more destruction. He was told that the demonstrators left out of respect for the imposed curfew. The burnt vehicles were cleared up and traffic flowed freely again. As of Friday morning the area is on lockdown. Military vehicles have been deployed there and Batal Ahmed is closed, braced for a march set to begin outside the mosque.