The One Chart That Shows the Importance of Egypt's Massacre

Yesterday was one of the deadliest single-day instances of police-on-protester violence since Tiananmen Square.
A man carries the daughter of his dead brother, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, at El Eyman mosque in Cairo August 15, 2013. (Amr Dalsh/Reuters)

The thing that stuck with me most from stories on yesterday's clashes in Egypt were the people attempting to flee the protest center as police beat them and snipers mowed them down.

This is from Washington Post reporter Abigail Hauslohner's personal account of her harrowing experience near the site of the violence:

Police carried a wounded fellow officer past us. Another officer beat a teenager over the head with a handgun before hauling the youth away. A woman implored a police officer not to kill protesters as they shoved back a man who, through tears, said he was trying to get to his younger sister, who was trapped inside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.

For the uninitiated, it can be hard to keep up with the significance of day-to-day developments in Egypt. Morsi's fall was precipitated by protests that erupted regularly over the course of the year, and after his ouster, violence has only picked up. Egypt's entire summer has been punctuated by protests, clashes, and crackdowns. The horror of yesterday's massacre speaks for itself, but when a country is in the throes of such turbulence, it can be hard to get a sense of the scale of individual tragedies.

But in fact, yesterday was one of the deadliest single-day instances of police-on-protester violence since the infamous Tiananmen Square incident in China in 1989.

Using news reports, I pulled together the high and low estimates of deaths in major recent events in which police or security forces shot civilians. The dots represent the low death toll estimate, and the line shows the range leading up to the high estimate:

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 1.15.29 PM.png

There are of course plenty of caveats to this chart: For some of these events, casualties are impossible to confirm. Some say several thousand -- not hundred -- died in Uzbekistan in 2005 when the country's military forces opened fire on protesters in the city of Andijan, for example. And estimates for the death toll from Tiananmen Square have gone as high as 5,000 or more.

And because the Arab Spring protests came in waves and lasted months, thousands of protesters died across the region over the course of 2011, often at the hands of security forces. In Syria, more than 100,000 have perished so far in what started as a protest movement, though for our purposes here, I captured only the first few months after the government's initial crackdown in 2011.

But even with that in mind, it's clear that yesterday is comparable to some of the deadliest attacks by security forces in recent history, and it's the clearest sign yet the Egyptian military has no interest in compromise.

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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