It’s not clear whether Mahmoud Sobhy was the first person killed on Friday. What is clear is that he was one of at least 30 who died in protests that added to the anxiety and divisions snowballing across Egypt in the wake of President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster last Wednesday.
Mourners gathered at Saturday afternoon prayers for Sobhy’s funeral in Nasr City, not too far from where he was shot in the head at point blank range near the Republican Guard Headquarters.
There is disagreement as to whether he was killed by army soldiers as he approached them with a photo of Morsi, or killed by some sort of fifth column hiding among the protestors he marched beside.
Proponents of each theory fall along political lines.
Outside the mosque the imam exhorted mourners to refrain from politics — but once prayers ended, political overtones began to emerge.
The transition from piety to politics seemed gradual. “There is no god but God.” “God is witness to he that wronged the dead.” “The martyr is loved by God.”
These chants inevitably changed to the more overt: “Down with military rule,” and “Leave, Sisi,” referring to Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who issued an ultimatum to Morsi to heed people’s demands and step down or be forced out of office. The latter happened on Wednesday, and Morsi was deposed.
Since then, supporters and opponents have been engaged in confrontations and at times bloody clashes around the country. At funerals on either side, the other is vehemently blamed.
As his uncle’s body was moved to the cemetery, Sobhy’s teenage nephew implored the crowd, “He’s my uncle! This isn’t a demonstration!”
Earlier, he had politely but firmly asked journalists not to attend prayers out of respect for the family. A little later, he’d grown much more emotional.
Family members and friends refused to comment to the press, but others were more than willing.
“I didn’t know him, but we all want to say that the Islamic movement didn’t kill him,” said Nadia Mohamed Soliman.
She came because there were rumors that his death was some sort of conspiracy by the Muslim Brotherhood and its political party, of which she is a card-carrying member.
Democracy isn’t the kind of politics practiced by the military, she added, they only count those in the streets from a helicopter.
At another funeral on Saturday, the island neighborhood of Manial came out to mourn five of its sons that died in clashes with Morsi supporters.
A confrontation broke out as they attempted to use the Gamaa Bridge, the main route onto the island, as a shortcut to the state television building close to Tahrir Square, where thousands of Morsi opponents were protesting.
There were many similarities between the two funeral processions turned protests. Chants were belted out by men carried on shoulders and others with loudspeakers. “There is no god but God.” “God is witness to he that wronged the dead.” “The martyr is loved by God.”
There were notable differences too.
At the bridge in Manial, there were at least four armored vehicles parked to separate the mourners from Islamists, who had gathered on the other side of the Nile. In Nasr City, there was no security presence save for fortress-like military buildings and signs saying, “The army protects the people.”
In Manial there was also a media presence, with at least five cameras mounted on top of vans to follow the crowd, and to broadcast the Brotherhood’s wrongdoings. In Nasr City, there was no Egyptian media, an absence pointed out by the mourners, many of whom came to point out the army’s alleged crimes.
Sami Mourad, a commerce student, knew Mahmoud Helmy, one of those killed near the bridge. He said he could hear the Brotherhood approaching Manial, firing machine guns as they came.
As he recalled the circumstances of Helmy’s death, a man at one of the makeshift funeral halls on Manial’s main street called out on a loudspeaker: “The martyr is loved by God. The Ikhwan are the enemies of God.”
Soon he abandoned the second half of the chant, however, as the crowd of thousands repeated only the first line, and continued to mourn their neighbor.