Earlier this week, 21-year-old Sherif Habib died in hospital after suffering severe burn wounds as a result of a suspected arson attack.
At least four people have been arrested since the death of the University of Greenwich graduate who aspired to join Sandhurst Royal Military Academy.
Back in Egypt, news of the death was quickly politicized by both government supporters and the opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s media quickly erupted, with television show hosts accusing the United Kingdom of being slow to react to the death of Habib. On Sada El-Balad, where the news was first brought up locally, the television show host questioned why the case has not been investigated to a greater extent, referencing criticism regarding Giulio Regeni’s death in Cairo. Even newspapers were quick to politicize the death, with El-Watan brandishing a headline that read “Sherif is like Regeni”.
On Wednesday, a large number of Egyptian members of parliament denounced “Western double standards” in investigating the death of Habib compared to the outrage at the death of Giulio Regeni, who so far appears to have died under completely different circumstances.
According to Al-Ahram, the Conservatives Party, led by businessman Akram Qortam, expressed outrage at the “savage murder”, questioning how the British government had the “genius” ability to know that the Russian airplane that crashed in Egypt’s North Sinai was the result of terrorism, yet could not use this “genius ability” to solve Habib’s case.
The outrage of Egypt’s parliament extended to the extent that a member of parliament decided to travel to the United Kingdom and visit the family of Sherif Habib.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Prosecutor-General, who has received a number of wild claims from the public, opened an investigation into the deaths of Habib and another Egyptian citizen, Mohamed Mahmoud Rushdie, whose body was found ditched next to a dumpster in Indiana, United States of America.
— eslam mostafa (@eslam0mostafa) April 26, 2016
Among the claims surrounding the death of Habib are that British police killed the young man. #British_Police_Killed_Adel_Michael trended briefly in Egypt following news of the crime.
While it is not clear whether those making such claims are definitely government supports, it is evident that the claims are linked to the death of Giulio Regeni in Cairo and the reaction to the case, which has seen condemnations from Italy and the United Kingdom where Regeni studied.
However, the death of Habib has also been used by the Muslim Brotherhood to advance its own goals. In a statement released on its official English website, the Muslim Brotherhood said that Egypt’s government must be “questioned about the rights of all Egyptians, especially the right to life, of young Sherif Habib and student Giulio Regeni”.
Others who are critical of the Egyptian government have asked why the government would care about its citizens abroad when its own citizens face human rights abuses at home.
The politicization of Habib’s case is not the first of its kind. When an Egyptian student briefly went missing in Ukraine just days after Regeni’s body was found, social media users were quick to call on the Egyptian government to take a strong stance. Others have pondered why the case of a missing Egyptian in Italy has not been “adequately” followed up by Italian authorities.
Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a trend that has seen conspiracy theories grow in numbers since the 2011 revolution. From Hilary Clinton supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, to Ahmed Shafiq being the actual winner of Egypt’s first presidential election after the revolution, these theories have become as common as reports of Hosni Mubarak’s death.
Attempts to continue to politicize Habib’s death ignore not only the reality of the circumstances surrounding his death, but also the negative impacts they have on Egypt’s image. A country rife with conspiracy theories is a country that is simply uncomfortable with itself.