Egypt: Five years since ‘Rabaa massacre’

Half a decade after deadly crackdown of supporters of ex-president Morsi, human rights activists still call for probe.

Memories of the Rabaa massacre
At least two dozen women were killed during the dispersal operation on August 14, 2013 [Al Jazeera]

Five years ago, Egypt witnessed one of the deadliest days for demonstrations in its modern history when security forces killed hundreds of supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. 

The dramatic dispersal of the sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square on August 14, 2013, saw soldiers and police shoot dead more than 800 protesters in a matter of hours.

The bloody crackdown came weeks after Morsi was overthrown by the military following mass demonstrations against his one-year rule. 

Egypt’s security forces maintain some of the demonstrators were armed and there were “terrorists” among their numbers.


Despite a wealth of evidence implicating the Egyptian army and police in killing the protesters, no one has ever been brought to trial and the Egyptian government has yet to transparently investigate the massacre.

The government-appointed National Council of Human Rights produced a report on the events, but its findings are at odds with witness accounts and human rights activists. 

Since 2013, hundreds of protesters, including leaders of Morsi’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, have been convicted at mass trials. An Egyptian court in July sentenced 75 people to death for participating in the protest.

Rallies marking the Rabaa killings have met fierce resistance by Egyptian authorities.

Since his removal, Morsi has been tried in several different cases.

In April 2015, he was sentenced to 20 years on charges of ordering the arrest and torture of protesters in clashes outside the presidential palace in 2012.

What happened?

After massive protests calling for Morsi to step down, the military announced the removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president on July 3, 2013.

The protests – staged in Tahrir Square one year after Morsi was sworn into office – called for early presidential elections, with demonstrators accusing the president of failing to fulfil his electoral promises.

The now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most popular political group at the time, called for counter-protests at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares.

Reporters run for cover during clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and police in Cairo on August 14, 2013 [File: Mosaab el-Shamy/AFP]
Reporters run for cover during clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and police in Cairo on August 14, 2013 [File: Mosaab el-Shamy/AFP]

The protests developed into the large-scale sit-in against the military coup.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), about 85,000 protesters joined the sit-in, which extended for over 45 days and grew larger and more organised with time.

Protesters slept, ate, prayed, and lived at the square. Many hoped the sit-in would succeed in pressuring the military to restore Morsi to the presidency.

As time passed, supporters of the military across the city grew frustrated with the defiant sit-ins and calls to disperse them came from both largely pro-military private and state-owned media outlets.

The military-backed government, officially ordered the dispersal of Rabaa and al-Nahda on August 14, with armoured vehicles, bulldozers and hundreds of security forces moving in the early hours.

Calls for justice

After a year-long investigation, New York-based HRW documented the events that led to the mass killings, interviewing witnesses and reviewing video footage. 

Based on the findings of its 2014 report, HRW concluded the killings “likely amounted to crimes against humanity” and “were part of a policy”.

In a statement on Monday, the rights group called for an international inquiry into the deadly crackdown. 

“Five years on from the Rabaa massacre, the only response from authorities has been to try to insulate those responsible for these crimes from justice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Without justice, Rabaa remains an open wound. Those responsible for the mass killings of protesters shouldn’t count on being able to shield themselves from accountability forever.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies