Dead bodies piled up in the middle of collapsed tents. Charred personal belongings. Bulldozers. Tanks.
A year has passed since the military violently dispersed a sit-in supporting ousted president Mohamed Morsi, killing at least 817 people, according to Human Rights Watch. The scene still haunts its witnesses.
Conflict and violence have a lasting negative impact on individuals and communities, delaying socio-economic development, health, reconciliation and peace, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
When people are subject to any kind of trauma, they experience symptoms collectively known as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said Farah Shash, a psychologist at El-Nadim Center for the Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
“There is a limit to the ability of human to tolerate violence,” Shash said. “It got disturbed.”
The most “striking” symptom of PTSD is that the trauma victim recalls the incident over and over again, she said.
“Some cases experience nightmares or flashbacks with all details as if they are actually in the attack,” Sash said.
Victims may also repeat the physical responses they had during the incident of trauma, she said. Anything associated to the incident, such as the place, could trigger the symptoms.
“A woman who was attacked in Tahrir [Square] said she remembers the incident every time she goes to the square,” she said. “She holds her clothes and tries to protect herself as if she is under attack again.”
Responses to trauma, however, differ from one individual to another, she said.
Some victims experience “numbness of emotions”, disrupted sleeping patterns, loss of concentration or even denying the traumatising incident completely in a sort of “defence mechanism”. As a result, victims sometimes forget some details which affect their testimonies in court.
“In some cases, victims could not even identify their attackers,” she said.
Traumatising events, such as the Rabaa Al-Adaweya “massacre” do not only affect those who were a part of them, but affect entire communities, she said.
“Any Egyptian’s life before Rabbaa is different than his life after Rabaa,” she said.
Friends of victims, co-workers, social workers, care givers and people who saw images of violence or heard traumatising stories experience a “secondary trauma,” she said.
“This could lead to isolation, depression, sleep disorders or even substance abuse,” she said. People lose trust not only in their governments but in their communities that they have always felt they belonged to.
The dispersal and violent events of August 2013 traumatised many Egyptians, affecting them not only psychologically, but also socially, she said. It will take a long time for Egyptians to recover, gain trust and “settle on an identity” again, she said. “It’s changing the country’s history and identity,” she said. “We never witnessed something like this before.”