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Mourners grieve for the dead of Port Said

Mourners grieve for the dead of Port Said


Originally published in the Independent, 28 January 2013

Bursts of machinegun fire continued to rattle around the rubble-strewn streets of Port Said tonight as groups of locals fiercely rejected the 30 day state of emergency announced by Mohamed Morsi in response to the unfolding chaos across Egypt.

With onlookers cowering between parked ambulances to shield themselves from the fighting, gunmen exchanged fire with security forces still positioned inside a police station which has become the focus of much of the fighting.

At one point residents dashed for cover as an officer mounting a police armoured personnel carrier sprayed bullets down one of the streets from his turret-mounted weapon.

Earlier in the day workers at the Al-Amiri Hospital morgue had been preparing the bodies of five protesters killed during the previous night’s gun battles.

One of the dead, 28-year-old Ahmed Ali, had become a father to his first child only two days before he was shot dead through the back of the head.

Another, Mahmoud Shaeeb, had been hit by a bullet between his left eye and the bridge of his nose.

The morgue staff, soaping his body using water from plastic pink juice jugs, had covered the 18-year-old’s bare hips using a beach towel patterned with purple flowers.

“We had 30 years of injustice under Hosni Mubarak,” said one of the morgue staff, who gave her name as Om Mohamed. “Mohamed Morsi is doing the same – the only difference is he has a beard.”

The first funeral of the day, a procession attended by several thousand people, passed off relatively peacefully.

But mourners joined another march in the afternoon – this time for protesters who were wounded in Sunday night’s violence and later died of their injuries.

It was following this procession that the gun battles began.

The continuing clashes – which began on Saturday after residents attacked a prison holding condemned football supporters – led Mohamed Morsi to announce a curfew in the city due to begin at 9pm last night.

The curfew included the other Canal cities of Ismailia and Suez, and came as 50 people were confirmed to have been killed during nationwide clashes which began four days ago on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising.

In the capital there was another night of rioting as police and youths fought running battles alongside the Nile riverfront close to Tahrir Square – just yards away from two of Cairo’s top luxury hotels.

A 46-year-old man was shot dead during the clashes, though it was not immediately clear who was to blame.

In the teahouses of Port Said, locals responded to Mr Morsi’s emergency decree with scorn. Many planned to thwart the curfew by congregating outside the city centre Maryam Mosque at 9pm.

Others compared the Muslim Brotherhood president to Hosni Mubarak, screaming insults at the televisions in local cafes as news channels broadcast the President’s speech.

“The situation here is a disaster,” said Khaled Said, an official from the liberal Dostour Party in Port Said. “People here feel the government has selected us for special punishment.”

The weekend gun battles began when locals attempted to free prisoners who had been condemned to death for their role in last year’s Port Said football massacre.

A total of 33 people died during two hours of street-by-street fighting on Saturday night.

Many in Port Said claim the prisoners – a large number of whom are fans of the local football team – are being sacrificed for political ends.

But anti-government grievances in the city stretch back for years. Following an alleged assassination attempt on Hosni Mubarak in the city back in 1999, locals have accused the authorities of deliberately hampering development and restricting access to free trade zones along the Suez Canal.