The death of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh sparked outrage throughout the country – but from most people, for the wrong reasons. It was a he said/she said debate over who killed her. Supporters of the current regime instantly blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, labelling it as another of their vicious schemes to destroy the police and country. Several political activists – and witnesses – claim that she was shot by police during the violent and unnecessary dispersing of protests commemorating the fourth anniversary of the revolution.
Shaimaa was pictured moments before her death holding a bouquet of flowers. Her only wish was to place it in Tahrir Square, the iconic venue that used to be a symbol for hope to many Egyptians, to remember those who lost their lives four years ago. Instead, she was shot in cold blood, leaving her five-year-old son behind.
As the pictures, videos and statements emerged immediately after her death, one thing struck me deeply: the calmness of those around her. A video showed Shaimaa being carried by one of the protesters in one of the connecting streets to Talaat Harb. As he walked through the narrow street, dozens of people were standing idly by, watching her body being placed on a plastic chair as he cried for someone to call for a taxi. Old men were sitting in a local coffee shop, with near-empty cups of tea on the table, watching, emotionless. Bystanders stood expressionless, one of them with his hands in his pocket, giving the same look he’d give a car passing by. People in the distance similarly looked impartial.
It was astonishing to see how acclimated they were to the sight of something so horrible. Maybe this is because in an area so susceptible to protests and sit-ins as Talaat Harb Square, it was normal for people there to witness tragedy. It wasn’t a rarity to see gruesome injuries and in some cases death.
What this confirmed to me though, and it is something that I have been contemplating for quite some time, is that we Egyptians have been desensitized by violence. The incessant waves of deaths and injuries from explosions, protests and even car crashes have left us inherently numb.
Shaimaa’s death left many in grief, but not in shock. In anger, but not unexpected. A protest entering Tahrir Square to reignite the memory of the revolution? Something was bound to go wrong.
The unmerciful continuation of death and destruction has left many heartlessly unsurprised. Expecting more to come and hoping it isn’t someone they love or support is all one can do.
It’s human nature to mourn, and it’s human nature to hate. In a country when one is constantly exceeding the other it’s not so surprising that we react the way we do to certain events. It was probably very naïve of me to just realize this now. In Paris, millions went to the streets in defense of 12 people, even if they did not agree with what they wrote. Those who participated in the protests believed in the sanctity of life. In Egypt, we’d be relieved if the death toll was only 12.
This is not politically motivated; I’m not siding with one side over the other. I’m not saying all of this is the collective fault of a certain entity or group. This is simply a realization of how many of us are gradually losing our ability to be surprised at these events. The relentless continuation of violence that plagues our country has left us depleted. A year ago, even with us still feeling the effects of the country’s instability after the revolution, hearing of bombs being set off at least 3 or 4 times a week would have been unheard of. Now, it’s greeted with tranquil ears.
The sudden normality of all this does not bode well for Egypt. Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s five year old son is a sample of all the children who have lost mothers and fathers due to these horrific events. He will grow up with vindictiveness towards a country where his mother was shot because she believed in something. He will grow up surrounded by explosions and death. It won’t be much of a surprise to him because his mother was killed for holding a flower.
Edited by Karim Hafazalla