On Aug. 2, a group of idealistic pro-Morsi Egyptian youth placed a well-filmed English-language video on YouTube, started a Facebook page and Twitter account, and began the Rabba Tour service in the heart of Cairo’s protest camp in an attempt to debunk stereotypes about those on the Islamist side of Egyptian politics. They invited media, humanitarian workers and everyday tourists into their fold for a look around.
Just 12 days later, their camp was destroyed, members went missing, and their tours ended indefinitely after a bloody operation to break up the protest camp in a square near Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque and elsewhere left at least 638 dead, more than 4,000 others injured, and a nation teetering on the brink of civil war.
“It was an unbelievable day that can’t be described,” said Salman Emam, one of Rabaa Tour’s founding members. “There is no more Rabaa as a place for a sit-in. It’s now all destroyed. It’s burnt with the dead bodies and all those injured but still alive.”
When International Business Times first caught up with Emam last week, he was optimistic that his group’s tours of the sit-in protest could change minds about the activists, who had been portrayed in local media (and by organizations like Amnesty International) as terrorists who harbor foreign fighters and torture political opponents.
These tours were a way to circumvent the state-controlled media after the government took Islamist television channels off air in July. The group said it also provided a way to show that not everyone in the protest camps was necessarily a hardcore pro-Brotherhood supporter (some were simply anti-coup), and that not everyone there was a radical (though some argued that the women and children photographed smiling and squirting each other with water guns at the camp’s playground area were used as human shields).
The nightly tours, which attracted more media than traditional tourists, included “live interaction” with the tens of thousands of people engaged in a monthlong protest against the military ousting of President Mohammed Morsi. The group claimed to offer a view of the heart of the conflict between security forces and members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Rabaa Tour is a free-of-charge service simply offering visitors a tour inside the Rabaa sit-in to witness its peacefulness as a counter action for the fierce misleading local media campaign against the sit-in, charging it [with] detaining opponents, torturing people and holding weapons,” Emam said last week, describing the initiative. “The tour simply costs us nothing as we just preview a presentation about the sit-in and the massacres and then take a walking tour in the sit-in. As our slogan indicates, it's all about seeing rather than hearing about us: ‘Heard enough? Time to see’."
The tours started from the Panorama Rabaa Tent, a makeshift museum that displayed pictures of “some of the martyrs and their possessions” and showed documentaries on an LCD screen. Like nearly everything else in the area, that tent is now destroyed, Emam said.
He called Wednesday’s events “a massacre” and “a really long and awful story that needs to be covered.” Though there is nothing left to tour, he vowed to carry on fighting for what Rabaa Tour was all about.
“Rabaa Tour, as an idea of awareness, will stay the same, and the name as well will remain as it is as a symbol of persistence. We will try to deliver the same message in whatever sit-in will start at whatever place [it happens], as we do believe that peacefulness is the only way free Egyptians should take.”
The group’s Facebook page has become a gathering point on the Web for pro-Morsi supporters, who are planning further sit-ins and marches across the country after Friday prayers under the slogan: “the people will topple the coup.”
“All the streets will turn into sit-in squares. It’s time for the new world order; it’s time for change,” Rabaa Tour wrote to its Facebook fans Thursday. The group also posted a series of graphic videos and photos of “the massacre” with stunned captions like: “Just tell me why?”
Egypt’s interim government defended its actions as international condemnation reached a fever pitch Thursday, saying both that its troops fired in self-defense and that it was not responsible for many of the reported deaths. Egypt’s ambassador to Great Britain, Ashraf Elkholy, noted that what the government did was “an obligation from any state towards its people, to defend its interests and protect them.”