Cairo: The 37 men had converged on the Egyptian capital from across the nation to show their support for deposed Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.
But on Saturday, they lay on a mosque’s bloodied marble floor, their names and cities of origin scrawled in black marker pen on white body bags.
Mohammad Al Bahi, who died with a faint smile on his face, had a bullet in his chest, medics said. His body was added to the row of corpses soon after the deadly confrontation with police that erupted in the morning.
The 19-year-old business studies student had been camped out at the Cairo sit-in to support Mursi since June 30, just days before the president’s overthrow in a military coup.
“How did he die? Look at the smile on his face,” said his brother, Abdul Rahman.
“He had a cause he was defending. He was not a violent person,” whispered Abdul Rahman, clearly still in shock.
Witnesses say police and “thugs” fired live rounds and birdshot at the pro-Mursi protesters who marched out from their sit-in around the Raba’a Al Adawiya mosque.
The police deny using lethal force, but at the makeshift morgue in the mosque, one corpse after another bore gunshot wounds.
“They were all shot with live rounds,” said a doctor at the field hospital, Amal Ahmad Ebrahim.
As ambulances arrived outside the mosque to remove the corpses, angry and grieving protesters assembled to form a corridor to allow the medics take out the dead.
Some of the onlookers wept as women ululated defiantly.
One woman rushed forward to stop the medics carrying her dead husband on a stretcher, so she could peel back his shroud and kiss his forehead.
“In God’s way we pass, we want to raise the banner. Not for this world have we worked: we will sacrifice for our religion,” the crowd chanted.
Outside the mosque the pro-Mursi protest camp seethed with anger.
Edgy young men, helmeted and wielding clubs, guarded a gauntlet of brick fortifications on the road leading to the scene of the morning’s carnage.
They greeted journalists with victory signs and chants of “Sissi is a killer”, referring to army chief General Abdul Fatah Al Sissi.
On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians had heeded a call by Al Sissi for a rally to grant him a mandate to crackdown on “violence and terrorism”.
The general, who led the popularly backed coup against Mursi on July 3, faces a semi-insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, where militants attack security forces daily.
Privately, military officials have said they consider the sit-in at Raba’a Al Adawiya to be a breeding ground for “terrorism”.
The military and police will eventually move in to break up the sit-in, interim interior minister Mohammad Ebrahim said in a news conference on Saturday, after the deadly clashes.
The Raba’a Al Adawiya protesters expect that confrontation to be bloody.
“He died today,” said Abdul Rahman Bahi of his brother Mohammad. “And now I’m waiting for my turn. God is sufficient for me, and He is the most excellent custodian.”