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Why Egypt Is Wrong to Draft a Law Criminalizing Suicide

March 5, 2022
Cairo, Oct 15: The city of Cairo is densely packed with old residential buildings, October 15, 2014, Cairo, Egypt

If you do a simple Google search for “Kid Cudi saved my life,” you will find thousands of posts, comments, and interviews describing how Scott Mescudi, rapper and hip-hop artist, has contributed to the prevention of suicide among young people aged 25 and under. Cudi has battled severe depression himself and was the first to shift the conversation in hip-hop towards addressing mental health issues.

Cudi inspired a generation of teenagers and young adults to speak openly about their battles with depression. By allowing himself to openly discuss his anxiety, grief, depression, and survivor’s guilt, he paved the way for his audience to be open and vulnerable as well. In 2016, Cudi was not afraid to share with his fans that he had checked himself into rehab because he had strong suicidal urges and set an example that it is acceptable to ask for help when needed. Cudi also works to combat the stigma associated with suicide, thereby saving lives.

In Egypt, the topics of serious mental health disorders have also come to light in a more explicit fashion, Zap Tharwat, an Egyptian rapper tackled mental health issues prevalent in Egyptian youth, namely the affliction of both suicide and depression in his song 25 (2018) along with Sary Hany and featuring Hany El Dakkak. The song, which accrued 3.5 million views on YouTube, stressed that 25 percent of Egyptian youth suffered from depressive and suicidal tendencies.

On 8 January, the Egyptian Parliament was presented a new proposal to add an article to the Penal Code criminalizing non-fatal suicides. The proposal rendered the act punishable by up to three years in a forced institutional rehabilitation program, and a fine of up to EGP 50,000 (USD 3177).

In proposing this new law, the MP Ahmed Mahana said that “suicide should be criminalized because those who attempt suicide are committing a crime against themselves, their families, and their country, in addition to the sin and punishment waiting for them in the afterlife.”

Mahana refers in the explanatory memorandum to article 177 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes incitement to suicide, and emphasizes the urgency of Egyptian legislators criminalizing fatal and non-fatal suicide. Mahana believes the Penal Code is deficient in that it criminalizes only incitement to suicide, in contrast to the Penal Codes of Qatar, Oman, and Sudan, which severely punish non-fatal suicides with monetary fines and imprisonment. Mahana also listed five male adolescent fatal suicides across the country.

Egypt is a country that lacks mental health awareness. It is a country where basic and decent therapy and rehab facilities (such as the Behman Hospital in Helwan and the Okasha Institute of Psychiatry in New Cairo) are very expensive and only accessible to a few with capable financial means, and a country where public and free mental health care facilities are substandard, such as Abasseya Hospital, that is even dubbed “loony hospital” by the populace.

This decision to draft a new – yet outdated – law criminalizing suicide is a reaction from Egyptian legislators towards the rise in youth suicide in Egypt. In March 2021, A woman in her twenties collided with a truck while driving in the opposite direction on the Galala road. In September 2021, in Nasr City, a girl threw herself from the sixth floor of a mall. In December 2021, as a result of his manager’s constant bullying, a male employee threw himself from the third floor of his company’s premises in New Cairo. In January 2022, 17 year-old Bassant, died by suicide as a result of being threatened with fake nudes by an anonymous person online and after being slutshamed by family members and teachers in response to this. A month after her sister’s death, Bassant’s younger sister tried to end her life due to the bullying and shaming of the members of her town.

In these five recent fatal and non-fatal suicides that are known to the public highlight very critical societal issues that Egyptian teenagers and young adults face on daily basis, including slut-shaming, sexual coercion, bullying, and lack of mental health awareness, suicide prevention programs and suicide bereavement support that would warn against the risks of suicide for the suicide bereavement survivors.

The legislators seem oblivious to the root causes of these young souls’ loss of hope in life, and instead of taking steps towards constructive solutions, they turn a blind eye to these deeply poisonous societal issues.

By enacting this law, the legislators contribute to the existing stigma surrounding suicide by not only criminalizing it but also by spreading and affirming words that further stigmatize suicide, such as “commit,” “attempt,” “crime,” and “punish” into the everyday language used to address the subject. This adds additional distress to the suicide bereaved, resulting in increased stigma, shame, and bullying for those left to grieve.

It is truly sad to be alive and witnessing that, in 2022, legislators in Egypt are adopting a law that was abolished in the United Kingdom over sixty years ago. Suicide was a crime in the United Kingdom up until 1961 when people realized the fault of common law in addressing suicide as a means of achieving the goals of criminal law; accordingly, the Suicide Act 1961 was introduced to decriminalize it.

The British Suicide Act 1961 not only recognizes that suicide has long been entangled in medieval concepts and legalistic formalism but that the problem is far too pressing to be ignored or left unchanged.

When it comes to suicide, the central question is what drives a person to this final act, rather than whether or not this individual is to be treated and labeled as a criminal. This question is approached from two disparate perspectives: sociological and psychoanalytical.

The sociological analysis looks at the type of distress an individual faces and the needs that are governed by society, which results in an inability to adapt to certain situations, and in the case of Egypt, the faults of society are quite obvious and must be addressed.

On the other hand, the psychoanalytical view is that non-fatal suicide is a symptom of mental illness, and the country’s solution is to provide accessible mental health care. Both approaches conclude that criminal liability for suicide makes no more sense than for any other symptom of any other distressing situation or illness.

Mental health advocates worldwide have been combating the language that remains from a time when suicide was considered a crime.

Nowadays, it is preferred use the phrases “died by” rather than “committed,” and “fatal” and “non-fatal” rather than “successful” and “attempt” when discussing suicide.

Rapper Kid Cudi. Photo Credit: J. Rivera

The world is encouraging a shift in how mental health issues are viewed; the rhetoric is changing, and outdated laws are being repealed; mental health is becoming increasingly accessible, and artists, such as rapper Cudi, continue to save lives through his music, to quote him “music is a platform for me to express myself and realize that I am not that crazy. There are other kids out there that might be depressed or lonely, dealing with suicide, things like that.”

Any opinions and viewpoints expressed in this article are exclusively those of the author. To submit an opinion article, please email [email protected].

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