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The Cairo morgue

Israel/Palestine
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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

As Bradley Manning is sentenced to 35 years for leaking secrets of US duplicity in the world and Pervez Musharraf, our great ally in the war against terror is indicted for the murder of Benazir Bhutto, the Guardian reports that Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant continues to leak radioactive materials.  The latest, over 300 tons of toxic water, has raised Fukushima’s status to “serious” once again. 

Has Fukushima been anything other than serious since the original disaster in 2011?

Speaking of toxicity – and cover-up – we shouldn’t forget Hosni Mubarak, who is set to be released from imprisonment today.  Not to worry, though, he won’t be walking the streets of Cairo.  Word is that he will be detained under Egypt’s emergency laws he so willingly imposed on others during his reign. 

Like America, Pakistan and Japan, Egypt is a labyrinth of political intrigue and corruption – there’s no end in sight.  But like other disasters, toxicity is continually redefined by the powers that be.  The human costs seem secondary, “collateral damage” in modern military parlance.  Yet to the victims of toxic insanity, the damage is real.  It remains with their families for the rest of their lives – even when they try to bury their dead.

The human cost of Egypt’s war against its own citizens was captured vividly by the Times in an article about families attempting to retrieve their murdered loves ones at the Cairo morgue. It turns out that the families of those killed in recent weeks face a further devastating encounter with a hostile government.  But government is too structured a term for what they experience.  In reality, the bereaved face an organized form of violent and demeaning vigilantism.  Here’s how the Times describes the scene:

The unmistakable smell of death wafted several blocks away from the Zeinhom morgue on Tuesday, and feral dogs scrounging in the rubbish-strewn lanes lifted their noses into the hot, still air and trotted toward it, until deterred with swift kicks.

Nameless young men, shirts untucked to hide whatever they might have had in their waistbands, did their best to make sure no one approached the building, unless they were bereaved family members there to identify and collect a body, and even many of those had a very hard time of it.

The young men — none would give a name, and even asking risked attracting an attack — were described by the mourners as hired government thugs, a tool used during the Hosni Mubarak era that is making a reappearance as self-appointed security committees filling in amid a shortage of police officers. The men themselves said they were neighborhood watchmen, protecting their community from troublemakers and Egypt from the prying eyes of the news media, especially the international variety.

Once again, the theme of Egypt for Egypt – outsiders shouldn’t be poking their nose into Egypt’s business.  Even the dead have to be protected from the world’s prying eyes.

How did the dead die?  Even the cause of death has to be disguised by power – and affirmed by the bereaved: 

Many of the most recent arrivals were the Muslim Brotherhood prisoners, 36 in all, who were killed in what the government called an escape attempt on Sunday, supposedly suffocated by tear gas when the escape was put down.

Mohammad, the brother of one such prisoner, said that his brother’s death certificate read “suffocation” and that he was obliged to sign for it if he wanted the body. “I could see he was not suffocated, his body had been burned completely,” he said. “But it’s in God’s hands now, and we want to lay him to rest.”

Others recounted being forced to acknowledge their relatives as suicides if they wanted their bodies. Three days is a long time for Muslims to wait for burial; they prefer to do it within a day of death.

Leqaa Soweidan, an actress, blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for her brother’s death because he was shot on his balcony watching the group’s demonstration. But when she sought to claim his body from a hospital morgue, she was told to declare him a suicide if she wanted it quickly. 

So it is, murdered in cold blood, for the official record, is declared a suicide.  The families have no choice but to suffer yet another indignity.

Is the indignity suffered at Cairo’s morgue, ours as well?

What is the true cost of vigilantism and martial law, nuclear power and keeping secrets, vying for political power and murdering rivals?  Collateral damage?  Humiliation multiplied?

Yes, but ultimately the interrogation of the human.  Perhaps we should start at the morgues of the world.  What we find there is who we are.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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17 Responses

  1. Citizen
    Citizen
    August 22, 2013, 11:26 am

    In Egypt now, there’s echoes of the reign of terror in France, commencing in 1789:http://www.dailycensored.com/egypts-reign-of-terror/

    BTW, how many readers here have ever smelled a human body dead for a few days? I did. It can’t be described. Nothing compares to it. It’s absolutely the most vile and overwhelming smell; the suffocating stench is way beyond imagination. It’s akin to smelling deeply the Devil’s unwiped asshole. All you can do is run away, run, run from it. It completely and effortlessly makes William Blake’s work a toy joke the size of a pimple. It turns Maslow’s pyramid into an invisible fart.

  2. HarryLaw
    HarryLaw
    August 22, 2013, 11:34 am

    It would appear Turkey is being isolated by middle eastern states over its support for democracy in Egypt, Erdogan accused Western countries as well as the Islamic world of failing to stand against the coup and the crackdown. In our strange world it would appear that Generals, Kings and Emirs are the only legitimate rulers in the middle east..http://www.dw.de/support-for-muslim-brotherhood-isolates-turkey/a-17037906

    • Taxi
      Taxi
      August 22, 2013, 3:11 pm

      Harry,

      Turkey is no angel. It has been supporting terrorist takfirs in Syria, as well as:
      http://www.globalresearch.ca/syrian-chambers-of-industry-turkey-has-been-stealing-from-aleppos-factories/5319465

      Turkey has a huge moslem brotherhood community – they supported Morsi big time – Morsi was ousted – Turkish influence in Egypt was ousted too.

      Turkey’s meddling projects in the mideast have failed, so Turkey’s in the dog house. That’s life.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        August 22, 2013, 4:42 pm

        Turkey’s meddling projects in the mideast have failed, so Turkey’s in the dog house.

        Whereas Saudi Arabia’s and Israel’s have succeeded. It all comes down to who has the most money and Egypt happened to be for sale.

        That’s life.

      • bilal a
        bilal a
        August 23, 2013, 2:33 am

        Theyre gassing politica prisoners in Vans. Thats Life. And those who speak out against it are in jail, tortured, or if they happen to be the President of Turkey, facing their own risks of a coup or mass facebook ngo protests. Again, thats life.

        But even the best case scenario of some wave of benovlent technocratic IMF tyranny across the middle east for another 20 years, what will that bring the victors in Rome and Brussells.

        More immigrants. People who love the West, its freedoms, and opportunities. Until they get to the West, then they dont like it so much.

        Millions of more young arabs and africans in a greying europe.

        How u like dem apples.

    • bilal a
      bilal a
      August 23, 2013, 4:49 am

      We must suspect the Egyptian security forces of burning the churches in Egypt, both Mubarak and Sadat did this , Tariq Ramadan as guest on BBC

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23772361

      • bilal a
        bilal a
        August 23, 2013, 6:57 am

        Max Blumenthol on the ‘so-called revolutionary youth’ of Egypt,, clueless interviewer doesnt get it, keeps trying to edit Blumenthols views on the Egyptian left ( The Political Face of the Military -Economic Elite )

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        August 26, 2013, 1:13 am

        bilal,

        Are you for real?! Where’s your EVIDENCE that the army was burning down coptic churches?!

        Or is the word of Tariq Ramadan, the GRANDSON OF THE FOUNDER OF THE MOSLEM BROTHERHOOD, enough proof for your delectably impressionable brain?

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        August 26, 2013, 7:53 am

        Where’s your EVIDENCE that the army was burning down coptic churches?!

        As the spokesman suggested, Mubarak did it (or rather the military/police did it on his behalf) as did Nasser and Sedat.

        They were all dictators that rose through the military, so they have form.

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        August 27, 2013, 3:22 am

        Evidence, evidence, evidence, mister Shingo – where is your evidence? A “spokesman suggested” does NOT for evidence make. And Sadat and Nasser burned down churches? Really? Got evidence of this too?

        My god you are a lost cause! Enjoy stuffing yourself with propaganda and regurgitating it with vengeance at the feet of the sheeple.

        When you grow up, maybe you’ll understand that all armies the world over keep records of EVERYTHING they do, including secret meetings, missions etc. (why do you think the shredders come out when an army is about to fall?). All armies have a strict code of bureaucratic practice, submission of detailed reports, etcetera. EVERYTHING is recorded by several departments over so there’s usually more than one record per incident available.

        Go now and enjoy feasting on all 99 flavors of MB propaganda. Relish in your belief that you, an Australian, knows more about Egypt than native Egyptians themselves.

        The arrogance of (most) Westerners knows no bounds, indeed. No better nor lesser than zionist arrogance towards the natives of the middle east.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        August 27, 2013, 5:11 am

        Evidence, evidence, evidence, mister Shingo – where is your evidence?

        That Mubarak, Sadat and Nasser (with the military’s help) attacked Coptic Christian groups to rally support?

        And once again, the police stood idly by and let it happen, so that the army could them ride in on their white horse and pretend to be the saviors.

        Enjoy stuffing yourself with propaganda and regurgitating it with vengeance at the feet of the sheeple.

        Yes, this coming from the same person who says the Israelis are scared shitless of the pathetic Egyptian army.

        This coming from the same person who says that 12 billion pledges by Saudi Arabia is no big deal to a country that can’t feed itself.

        This coming from the same person who says Egypt’s foreign ministry is pro Palestinian even as Egypt is shutting the tunnels and demonizing Palestinians.

        This coming from the same person who consists this was a people’s revolution when those same people couldn’t even win a majority in the previous 4 elections.

        When you grow up, maybe you’ll understand that all armies the world over keep records of EVERYTHING they do, including secret meetings, missions etc.

        And they also go to extraordinary lengths to keep them secret, but no, not everything is recorded in meticulous detail, especially when it comes to black operations.

        Go now and enjoy feasting on all 99 flavors of MB propaganda.

        That would be impossible seeing as your beloved fascist military junta has closed all channels not sympathetic to the fascist military junta.

        Relish in your belief that you, an Australian, knows more about Egypt than native Egyptians themselves.

        Again, this silly argument has already been called out. After all, if your logic were to be applied consistently, then neither you nor I should be entitled to an opinion about the I/P conflict seeing as neither of us live there.

        The arrogance of (most) Westerners knows no bounds, indeed

        As does the idiocy of the useful idiots who were tricked and fooled into facilitating the return of the Mubarak regime.

        Have fun with your new fascist dictatorship.

      • yrn
        yrn
        August 27, 2013, 6:13 am

        “The arrogance of (most) Westerners knows no bounds, indeed. No better nor lesser than zionist arrogance towards the natives of the middle east.”
        “an Australian, knows more about Egypt than native Egyptians themselves.”

        Well well well, is it criticism about Israel too or just Egypt.
        As for you and ALL (most) Westerners who bull here about Israel and don’t have any clue, I don’t see any criticism.
        Or they don’t have a clue about Egypt, but they know everything about Israel.

        You are not just funny, but pathetic.

      • seanmcbride
        seanmcbride
        August 27, 2013, 9:30 am

        Taxi,

        Relish in your belief that you, an Australian, knows more about Egypt than native Egyptians themselves.

        The arrogance of (most) Westerners knows no bounds, indeed.

        From these statements should one conclude that you strongly self-identify with Egyptians (and the Egyptian military) and detest most Westerners — and Western culture in general?

        That is the message that Mondoweiss readers will probably pick up from the comments you have made since the Egyptian military coup.

        Most of us are still reeling in disbelief and disgust from the massacre of hundreds of Egyptian civilians by the new military government — a crime that is much more clear-cut than the chemical attacks in Syria. (John Kerry and Samantha Power still haven’t provided an atom of proof or evidence to back up their claims that the Syrian government was behind the attacks.)

  3. seafoid
    seafoid
    August 22, 2013, 5:25 pm

    There’s a big scandal in South Korea around faked nuclear power safety certificates and the country had record temperatures last week with much electricity capacity out of action. The link between SK, Egypt and the US is rampant corruption and contempt for the ordinary citizen.

  4. DanH
    DanH
    August 22, 2013, 8:07 pm

    Marc –

    To your intimation the world needs a truth and reconciliation process – I couldn’t agree more- but let it begin here!

    Perhaps we should drop by the morgue ..
    and the reference to 36 killed –
    brings to mind another authoritarian government, a ‘deep state’
    still very much with us –

    I’m thinking of the 34 US sailors and officers murdered in cold blood on a sunny day in June, 1967, when their ship, the USS Liberty was attacked and almost sunk by our best friend nation, Israel, while they were in the process of obliterating the Egyptian Air Force in a sneak attack we call the 6 Day War.

    The families of those US service-people had a similar experience to the one you describe; but different in that their instruction to lie, tell no one the circumstances their heroic son or daughter died under, came from the highest levels of our government, rather than some goon squad as you claim those Egyptians faced. It obviously was some reason of ‘Deep State’ significance that Admiral McCain, Senator McCain’s father, deep-sixed the Navy’s thorough investigation of the attack, more ominously, also threatened survivors with ‘going missing’ if they should breath a word of it. Check it out on the net – it’s called the “McCain Family Secret”.

    but let it begin here!
    We could start with Sen. John McCain –

    I’d like to ask why we are letting the tools of propaganda drive this whole Egypt thing.
    Marc, As you and Phil have pointed out (but without, it seems to me, a willingness to give ordinary Egyptian citizens, soldiers, journalists, some Christians but 90% Muslim, the benefit of the doubt), the numbers of dead of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the hundreds, is nowhere near the numbers Israel shrugs off killing matter of factly with our collusion. Beyond this, however, because in a country of 90 million, the MB, by bussing in people from the hinterland in, were able to have two premier demonstration sites, with some tens of thousands of demonstrators, how can we be talking in terms of genocide when the threat of the MB is more of the nature of a fulminating Ku Klux Klan with technical smarts and money?

    We know our MSM have agendas; Heaven knows we are led around by the nose, so why are we buying the reality they are selling?

    Senator McCain, what’s going on here?

    On Feb. 6th, 2011, in an interview with Der Spiegel Magazine you were quoted as saying about the Muslim Brotherhood ” “I think they are a radical group that first of all supports Sharia law; that, in itself, is anti-democratic-at least as far as women are concerned. They have been involved with other terrorist organizations and I believe that they should be specifically excluded from any transition government”.

    Senator McCain in your opinion, have the actions of the Morsi government after it’s time at the helm in Egypt, earned it the total about face you have taken now, apparently believing, and dictating to Egypt, the necessity for the interim government to now include Morsi and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in talks and cooperation, to move their nation forward? Was it not Morsi’s non-democratic and autocratic behavior in almost every instance during the course of the year that was the cause of the necessary part II of the People’s Revolution?

    Or is it some ‘Deep State’ reality that has been brought to your attention that results in what appears a 180 degree turn regarding the Muslim Brotherhood?

  5. RJL
    RJL
    August 23, 2013, 12:31 am

    Wow, what a change. An article, and comments, that had no connection to Israel, the “ziofascists”, the “apartheid state”, etc. Hey, are you sure this is Mondoweiss?

  6. seafoid
    seafoid
    August 23, 2013, 8:37 am

    Israel rings the embassies of the world to back the coup. Prominent bots such as Richard Haas urge Obama to attack Syria

    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/d9c3553e-0b2a-11e3-bffc-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz2cmsMRX5d

    And in Ha’aretz Nixon is classed as an anti-Semite back in 1973 for telling the lobby that he didn’t want any Israeli agents interfering with US Foreign Policy

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/world/.premium-1.543129
    “It’s about time that the Jew in America realizes he’s an American first and a Jew second,’ Nixon is heard saying to Henry Kissinger on one of the tapes.”

    It is a total mess.

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