'The day my brother died in Egypt's revolution'

Sam with a picture of his brother Abel, who was shot by a sniper in Tahrir Squar

Sam with a picture of his brother Abel, who was shot by a sniper in Tahrir Square, Cairo, during the Egyptian revolution


On the eve of the Egyptian revolution, Sam pleaded with his brother Abel to be careful. The next time Sam saw Abel was to identify his body – 42 days later.

On January 24, 2011, a simple family dinner with their mother was thrown into turmoil when Abel (his nickname, real name Nadi Sabar) announced he was going to take part in an action against the oppressive Hosni Mubarak regime.

“I asked him why,” says 35-year-old Sam (Osama). “But he asked me, ‘What, are you not Egyptian? I want a good life for my children. I didn’t get the chance for a good future, but I want this for my children.’ ”

Their mother hysterically begged Abel not to go, but Sam saw his involvement was inevitable.

“My brother had a really hard life in Egypt, one day he would have a job, the next day not. Then he got married and he did what he had to do to help the family [Abel left behind a wife, four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son].

“He was always given a hard time by the police, but he never had guns or drugs. One time they locked him up in a police station for 24 hours. They hit him in the face – mutha fuckers!”

Sam is a tour guide based in Cairo. His spoken English is strong, thanks in part to his job. He dreams of expanding his business, buying a hotel in Dahab and getting married. He is charismatic and charming, but by his own admission, he is not the revolutionary kind.

The events of January 25, 2011, and two plastic bullets lodged in his leg, changed this.

“We heard a big noise in our area. My brother was coming to me and he told me, ‘Hey, there is a revolution in our area’. But this was days before the revolution started.

“People made the revolution in front of each police station in peace. Just standing there and shouting: ‘Get our people out, get our people out - get your system down.’ ”

Then millions of Egyptians flooded into Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the action.

Because of the chaos, water cannons and plastic bullets, the exact details of Abel’s death are sketchy, but Sam says his brother was killed by a sniper’s bullet, a single shot through the heart, fired from the roof of one of the tall hotels surrounding the square.

“My brother was not lucky,” says Sam, who wasn’t even aware Abel was missing for two days because he was in hospital having the plastic bullets removed from his leg, after being caught in the crossfire at Tahrir.

Then the whole family, including his two sisters and other brother, mobilised the search.

“We checked all over Egypt; all the hospitals, seven o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock at night – but no word. Abel’s wife actually saw his body but she didn’t recognise him because he had swollen up so much and his eyes had fallen in. She was tired, everyone was so tired. I was talking like a drunk man.”

Forty-two days later, Abel was identified. Dead at 33.

But confusion still hung in the air. One doctor told Sam that Abel was dead on arrival, while another told him that he died on the operating table.

“He was just a baby,” cries Sam.” I saw the body, I cried, but I didn’t want to believe. I tried to be a man – kiss him on the forehead – goodbye my brother.

“People who have died for a just cause have not died, says the Koran.  They are still alive, like a god.”

Around five months after the death and no one has yet been identified as being the shooter.

Egypt’s interim government promised Abel’s widow a lump sum of fifty-thousand Egyptian pounds plus one-thousand a month to help take care of the children.

Sam says the fifty-thousand has not been forthcoming and the first instalment of the one-thousand was only paid in June. He concedes that some forces have hindered the compensation effort.

“Some people are claiming the bodies for compensation –they steal the body to take money from the government.”

He also doesn’t believe the official death toll – 384 civilian deaths during the revolution. Sam says 16 people in his neighbourhood alone were killed.

So what has the revolution achieved? Sam says not much has changed. He is angry, talk of retribution is just under the surface.

But the power seems to have swung in post-revolutionary Cairo. Abel’s wife is now forming her own political party – she has 4,100 people so far (the law requires 5,000 for a recognised party).

And Sam sees a difference in his everyday life.

“Before the police treat us like cockroaches – most animals in the West were treated better – but now they are afraid of us!”

article by Steve Madgwick

I saw the body, I cried, but i didn't want to believe


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