BEIRUT

Middle East

In Egypt, a year of bloodshed leaves a thirst for revenge

Gamal Siam, a Cairo University professor, talks during an interview with Reuters next to a picture of his deceased his son Sherif in Cairo August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

CAIRO: Egyptian police arrested 29-year-old Sherif Siam while clearing a Cairo protest camp one year ago. Four days later, he and 36 others suffocated in a packed police van on the way to jail.

On the same day as Siam’s arrest, policeman Mohammad Abdel Aziz, 22, was shot in the shoulder while breaking up a second sit-in on the other side of the capital. He died a week later.

One year since Egyptian security forces stormed two Cairo camps, killing hundreds of protesters demanding the reinstatement of elected Islamist President Mohammad Morsi, Egyptians remain deeply divided over the future of their country.

The crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has knocked the group from dominance and driven it underground, while the general who ousted the elected leader following protests against his rule is now president himself.

But for the families of the dead, the long wait for justice has left an abiding appetite for revenge on both sides of the political divide that could yet undermine the stability that Egypt’s new ruler, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, hopes will restore investor confidence and shore up a flagging economy.

Not content with seeking punishment for the individuals who took their children’s lives, these families say they will not rest until their political enemies have been eliminated.

“The murderers are Sisi and [Interior Minister] Mohammad Ibrahim. They gave the orders. They are the ones responsible, not the ones who executed the orders,” Siam’s father Gamal said.

The Cairo University professor, 68, gets teary-eyed when speaking about his son. Mother Eman, still clad in the black of mourning, frequently bursts into tears as they describe the blackened, swollen corpse they found at the morgue.

They say Sherif was not a Muslim Brotherhood member but had gone to the Rabaa sit-in, where he was detained and later transported in the overcrowded police van where he died.

“Some of our friends ... do not sympathize with us. They say: ‘He went to Rabaa, why did he go there?’” Gamal said. “We try to convince them that it is a life lost, but everything is political. It’s ‘with Sisi or against Sisi.’”

Across the urban sprawl from the middle-class suburb where the Siam family nurse their grief, Abdel Aziz’s mother says the man who shot her policeman son has yet to face justice. For her, the execution of hundreds of Brotherhood members on death row cannot come soon enough.

“These Brothers all need to be rounded up because they are ruining all the Arab countries. God take revenge on them,” Abdel Aziz’s mother told Reuters by telephone.

“These people should all be executed in a public square, rounded up, drenched in petrol and set alight.”

Many hundreds of Egyptians were killed when security forces used bulldozers and live ammunition to clear tens of thousands of protesters camped out in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares.

While the Brotherhood maintains it is a peaceful movement, the government says nearly 500 people, mostly from the army and police, have been killed in subsequent clashes and in attacks by Islamist insurgents angered at Morsi’s removal.

Over the past year, hundreds of Brotherhood members have been sentenced to death in mass trials that have drawn condemnation from Western governments and human rights groups.

The cycle of repression and militancy shows little sign of abating soon and the prospect of a long-term, low-level conflict threatens efforts to attract back foreign investors.

Steven Cook, an Egypt scholar at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington, said reconciliation looked unlikely.

“As Sisi and the leadership continue to dismantle the organization and close the channels for political participation, not just for the Brotherhood but for everybody, you necessarily radicalize the political environment,” he told Reuters by phone.

“You can jail a lot of these people, but ... you can’t necessarily erase the sentiments,” he said.

Coffee tables in the Siam home, not far from Rabaa al-Adawiya where he was detained a year ago, are covered with photo albums and framed pictures of Sherif.

A court sentenced the officer in charge of the van in which he died to 10 years in jail, but then ordered a retrial. The officer, and three junior policemen who received suspended sentences, are the only people punished to date in connection with the government crackdown in July and August 2013.

For the mother of policeman Abdel Aziz, security forces were doing what they had to for Egypt. Her son told her in the hospital that he had warned an Islamist, who was with his wife and children, to leave the sit-in to avoid getting hurt. Abdel Aziz said that was the man he believed later shot him.

“See what these terrorists are like and what my son is like? He did not want to kill the man who killed him,” she said.

The parents of Siam, who was at the other protest, said their son went to help the wounded on the day of its dispersal.

“I want to say more but what can I say? I am one of many mothers suffering,” she said in sobs.

“Never will things be OK. I miss the taste of life. I wish I would die myself,” added his father.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 15, 2014, on page 9.

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