Egypt: The murder of Shaimaa al Sabbagh
(AWTWNS 23 February 2015)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 23 February 2015 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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Egypt: The murder of Shaimaa al Sabbagh

23 February 2015. A World to Win News Service. On 24 January 2015 a young woman, Shaimaa al Sabbagh, described as a mother, poet and leftist, was shot by police near Cairo’s Tahrir Square. In her hands were flowers she meant to lay at a memorial for the more than 800 people killed during the January 2011 revolt that brought down President Hosni Mubarak. A photographer captured her dying moments. Now she is being called “a symbol of opposition to Egypt’s military rule” or “a symbol of the revolution”.

This is the story that Egyptian media tell us about her death, but they don’t answer the question of why this happened. She and her friends belonged to a secular group. They were only 25 people, and their demonstration only lasted two minutes. In a video you can see a policeman carrying a shotgun aim and fire under the direction of an officer, without any warning. Why?

To answer this question we should look at Egyptian news these days:

  • Earlier this year an Egyptian court sentenced 230 people to life in prison, including a prominent activist in the 2011 uprising. Thirty-nine other defendants, all minors, were sentenced to 10 years. All 269 defendants were found guilty of taking part in clashes with security forces in a Tahrir Square demonstration against the military in November and December 2011.
  • About two dozen of them won the right to a new trial. They were all sentenced to three or five years in prison on 23 February in what authorities called an act of “leniency”. The young people mocked the judges and their families, who came into the courtroom chanting “Down with injustice!”, left chanting “Down with military rule!”
  • An Egyptian court sentenced 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death on 2 February.
  • 17 demonstrators were killed in anti-regime protests on 25 January, this year’s anniversary of the 2011 revolt.

With all these events, the Egyptian regime led by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi is sending a clear message to people: it doesn’t matter who you are or what you want, if you want to change anything you’ll go to jail, and if you come into street you’ll be shot.

While the U.S. publicly expresses distaste for some of this repression, it fully supported Sissi when, as head of the armed forces, he overthrew the elected Moslem Brotherhood government, and it continues to fully fund those armed forces. Some people say this situation is the result of lack of democracy, but Sissi became president in a real election. Many people like Shimaa al Sabbagh supported him in opposition to the Brotherhood, after earlier backing the Brotherhood against the military.

What is often called the Egyptian Revolution was a just uprising against Mubarak, who ruled Egypt on behalf of the U.S. since before many of the young rebels were born. But there was no revolutionary change in the country’s state (armed forces, police, courts, etc.) and society. Even the regime change turned out to be partial and temporary under these conditions. People are still shot by the exact same police who killed 846, injured 6,467 and arrested 12,000 people during the uprising. They are imprisoned by the same judiciary, under the supervision of the armed forces the U.S. carefully cultivated. This regime and its courts have even cleared Mubarak himself of conspiring to kill protesters before he hell.

The story of Shaimaa al Sabbagh’s death has another side also. Let’s look at the Egyptian news again. This is not the first time the media has shown young women demonstrators being punished in Egypt. Remember the “blue bra woman” who was brutally beaten by Sissi’s riot police in 2011. Remember the women who were arrested by Sissi’s military police in Tahrir Square on March 2011 and forced to submit to “virginity tests”, being humiliated, video-taped and exposed by the military’s soldiers and officers. Remember the gang rape of women in Tahrir Square during mass demonstrations. Why are the women at the centre of Egyptian political news?

That’s a double-edged sword. While these media reports show that women’s demands are as serious as ever, they also tell women what kind of hazards await them if they come into the streets. In a traditional and religious society like Egypt, death is not considered the worst thing that can happen to a woman. Look again at the news: gang rape, virginity tests, a mother who was shot, leaving alone her five-year-old son.

The worst things that can happen to a woman in a patriarchal society are: losing family honour and not being a good mother. You would definitely laugh if you heard that police forced men to pass a “virginity test”. Have you ever heard a man activist described as a father? Have you ever heard about his five-year-old son waiting for him to come back home? Patriarchal societies never talk about a woman as a political activist or a revolutionary-minded person who wants to change her society and flourish as an individual in the course of that, despite all the risks. The opinion-makers always say a mother should think about her babies before anything else, she should care about family honour more than anything else. This society sends this message to women all the time: if you want to raise serious demands about changing society, you’d better think about the price you have to pay.

The photo of Shaimma al Sabbagh’s death is very powerful. There is something in this image that remind us of this sentence, “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”

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