Greg Wilesmith is a Foreign Correspondent producer and former ABC Middle East Correspondent.
Nothing can be preparation for the experience of entering a room of wailing, shrieking people desperate to display the source of their grief; of literally being pulled through a heaving crowd towards the refrigerated cabinets in the corner of the room, of trays pulled out and seeing bloodied bodies within.
And then being urged to film yet more bodies on the floor, some lying alone, others arranged head to toe with placards of Christ laid on their chests. Some faces were grotesquely distorted; others seemed extraordinarily calm and untouched. One man held up two bullets as if to confirm what had caused the killing. Against a wall a man was standing, weeping, his face smeared with blood. He bent to kiss one of the dead and the source of the blood became obvious.
We counted 17 bodies while the noise of an ever-growing mob trying to enter the morgue grew more deafening. It was a claustrophic hell; the urge to get out was powerful.
The rest of the hospital was gripped by pandemonium: stretcher bearers running in corridors, patients flung into unoccupied beds, doctors and nurses overwhelmed by the needs of the wounded and the clamour of family and friends.
We witnessed this horror, Ben Knight, Geoffrey Lye, Youssef Taha and I, at the Coptic Hospital in Cairo earlier this month while filming a report for Foreign Correspondent on what has happened to Egypt since the February revolution.
It was a Sunday night and what had started as a peaceful march by Coptic Christians, and some Muslim allies, on the Maspero, the government television building, had spiralled into a confrontation with thugs, riot police and soldiers. It was the worst violence since the revolution and a prime marker of how the revolution has failed the people.
We'd been contemplating a quiet night at our hotel half a kilometre away down the Nile. Then sirens blared across the city and media began reporting trouble at the TV station. We'd been there just a few nights before, filming a demonstration by Copts who were complaining about the destruction of part of the Mar Girgis (St George) church at Marinab, near Aswan, in southern Egypt – just the latest example, they claimed, of a campaign of sectarian violence by extremist Muslims. The protest had been noisy and the helmeted, black-clad riot police were tensing for action. When a gaggle of senior officers tried to seize Geoff Lye's camera, we made a fast strategic withdrawal.
So it was with some reluctance that we ventured out, armed this time with a small camera. Clouds of tear gas enveloped the 6th of October Bridge across the Nile. It proved as close as we could get to the battleground outside the television centre. As riot police charged with batons raised, it was time to withdraw once again. Only later that night at the Coptic hospital did the scale of the slaughter become clear. The cause of some of the deaths, according to witnesses, was that armoured personnel carriers had deliberately careered into demonstrators, crushing them.
Several days later, two of the generals who have run Egypt since Mubarak's departure called a news conference. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, known as the SCAF, has not earned a reputation for accessibility, let alone transparency, during the better part of nine months governing the country. This rare opening to the media did nothing to enhance the SCAF's reputation, beginning as it did with a patronising lecture about ethics and national unity, followed by a senior officer bellowing at a reporter who had the temerity to ask a question.
The local media invested many hours and learnt very little. The generals claimed the soldiers and riot police were not equipped with "live" ammunition and therefore couldn't have shot and killed anyone; as for the armoured personnel carriers, their drivers had been trying to escape the crowds and had not deliberately crashed into them. Of course there would be an investigation but the SCAF was sure the security forces were blameless. Government radio and television faithfully trotted out the official narrative.
No real surprise, then, that the SCAF later announced that civilian prosecutors would play no role in the investigation of the Maspero massacre; it would be handled by military prosecutors. No surprise either that the international body, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has raised fears of a cover-up. HRW reports that autopsies carried out on 24 bodies suggest that eight people died of bullet wounds and 13 died of injuries and fractures inflicted by vehicles.
Perhaps the only positive to come from the killings at Maspero is that the SCAF was sufficiently embarrassed by the overreaction and incompetence of the security forces that Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, Egypt's de facto president, has had several meetings with the leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III.
Tantawi has reportedly been conciliatory, agreeing that Copts can rebuild the church near Aswan in southern Egypt which was partially burnt down by a Muslim mob. Copts are said to number about 10 per cent of Egypt's 85 million people and have long complained about discrimination by Muslim-dominated governments at a local, city and national level. In particular they've argued that bureaucratic obstacles are frequently put in the way of communities and congregations wanting to extend or build churches. Muslim attacks on Christian communities are rarely investigated by police.
When Egyptians celebrated the fall of the Mubarak regime in mid-February, many genuinely believed that freedom was at hand and that the army could be relied upon to manage a transition to democracy. There's much less confidence now that the military has the same aspirations as the hundreds of thousands who filled Cairo's Tahrir Square in January and February and at the pro-democracy demonstrations in cities and towns around the country.
Nine months ago Foreign Correspondent framed a program on the revolution around a young activist, Salma el Tarzi who, along with her friends, spent 18 days and nights in Tahrir Square defying the might of the state to remove them.
The sheer joy of victory the night Mubarak fell was intoxicating, but Salma is deeply sceptical that the military will ultimately hand power to elected parliamentarians and to a president. "I do not expect the revolution to be over soon," she says. "We are cleaning up the mess of the past, not only of 30 years, of the past 60 years and it's not going to happen in nine months."