Middle East

Divided Egyptians united in grief

Mourners in Alexandria, Egypt, on 6 July 2013
Image caption Many people across Egypt have been burying their dead following the violence of recent weeks

The recent violence in Egypt has claimed the lives of people on both sides of the country's political divide. But while the bloodshed is polarising the country further, grief is one thing uniting them, says the BBC's Ahmed Maher.

Here in Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, it was a tragedy that left the family of Ahmed Qadri devastated.

Mr Qadri was shot twice in his chest and abdomen as security forces launched a brutal crackdown on the Brotherhood supporters camping outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on 14 August.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood leader in his hometown, Mr Qadri is survived by a wife and three children.

His 22-year-old eldest son, Fidaa, says he will not get over the death of his father for the rest of his life.

Fighting back tears, Fidaa said he made the 250km (155 miles) journey from Alexandria to Cairo to search for his father after losing contact with him for 13 hours.

"I spent two days searching desperately from one mosque to another. His picture was posted on the Facebook page of the Alliance for Supporting Legitimacy as one of the dead," said Fidaa, referring to a Muslim Brotherhood-led coalition against the ousting of the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Image caption Ahmed Qadri's family, including son Fidaa (far right) have been devastated by his death

"It narrowed the search as many bodies were burnt beyond recognition. I found his lifeless body in al-Iman mosque. It was a traumatic sight. He was among dozens of bullet-riddled, mutilated and charred bodies," Fidaa added, sobbing. He stopped the interview for a while and asking his sister Tasneem for tissues.

Several key mosques in Cairo and Alexandria have been turned into field hospitals and makeshift morgues to cope with the shocking number of casualties.

"I was screaming frenetically when I saw his body. I told him you are not a terrorist to be killed in cold blood," lamented Fidaa.

Spotted a crucifix

On the same day that Ahmed Qadri died, heavy gunfire rang out and fierce street fights took place between supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria.

Up to 60 people were killed in the ensuing violence that raged through several districts in the eastern part of the Mediterranean city.

Image caption The family of Mina Aziz are Christian and say they fear reprisal attacks

One incident in particular horrified people here; an incident that was captured by mobile phone cameras, uploaded on YouTube and went viral on Facebook and Twitter.

The video shows Muslim Brotherhood supporters turning their anger against a taxi driver who was caught up in their rally.

A passenger who survived the attack said in another YouTube video that the protesters spotted a crucifix in the car of 25-year-old Mina Aziz. They then dragged him out before stabbing him twice and shooting him dead.

I met the grieving family of Mr Aziz, who was due to get married in November.

His father and mother were too distressed to speak to the media.

His aunt, Marcel Alexander, was more composed although visibly upset.

"The Muslim Brotherhood thugs have killed lovely Mina. He just turned 25," she said.

"It is not an excuse to kill innocent people because of the Christians' support for the military and public uprising against Morsi (on 30 June)."

Mrs Alexander said the Muslim Brotherhood "from now on to us is called the terrorist brotherhood. Look how many churches that were burnt recently".

Rights activists say dozens of churches, monasteries and chapels have been set alight in several southern cities in the wake of what happened on 14 August; the Muslim Brotherhood denies its supporters are to blame.

"We fear more reprisal attacks in the days to come but will never be intimidated to leave our homeland," Mrs Alexander said.

The grief and fear in both families have widened a rift in Egyptian society that has never been so polarised.

After the recent killings, Egypt's future faces more uncertainty.

Many Egyptians wonder where the current turmoil will lead the Arab world's most populous nation, with 85 million.

It has lurched from one crisis to another since the revolution that ended the autocratic rule of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.