Khaled Said: Justice and dignity

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

July 18, 2011

Philip Whitfield

ALEXANDRIA: The scene of the crime is surprisingly unassuming. Hassan Messbah and his assistant Ahmed Nasr are calm, reflective and unwavering as third-party observers to the killing that took place in the SpaceNet Internet Café just over a year ago.

We go through the motions that led to the death of Khaled Said. We stand on the spot where Mr. Said was talking to a friend at 10.00 pm with his back to the open doorway, his hoodie pulled up over his head.

Two cops came up behind him. One put an arm lock on his neck and pushed him into the wall. Mr. Messbah had a bird’s eye view. He was at his desk, nine steps up, about 15 meters from the attack.

Mr. Messbah rushed over and pushed the three of them towards the door. He says one of the cops slammed Mr. Said into the wall. There is a marble shelf, about half a meter wide along the length of the wall.

Mr. Messbah watched one of the cops smash Khaled Said’s head on to the marble over and over again. Unconscious, he was dragged into the street and into the entrance of the next-door building where the cops pummeled him, mainly to the head.

Mr. Said was dead. A doctor passing by tried to stop the beating. Mr. Said’s body was pushed into a police car and lay there for 10 minutes. More cops arrived. A crowd gathered.

Eventually an ambulance arrived and Mr. Said’s body was taken away.

What is important about this evidence is that it affirms Mr. Said was not trying to resist arrest. He was never given a chance. He was standing with his back to the entranceway. Arm locked he offered no resistance.

What has emerged is that the two policemen were not the usual cops who patrol this part of the Cleopatra district of Alexandria. None of the locals recognized them. The prosecution has not explained to their satisfaction why they were sent to the SpaceNet café.

Local people say an informer paid by the police singled out Mr. Said so as to pick up a few pounds. They say Mr. Said was not a drug dealer or user. They say the police filled his mouth with a plastic bag of ‘bango’ during their attack on him.

Why? We don’t know.

What we do know is that Khaled Said’s death, the pictures of him before and after the attack, the public outrage and its proliferation on Facebook, galvanized a movement which mushroomed into a national call for Mubarak and his thugs to be purged.

Neighbors say Khaled Said’s family, his mother and sister in Cleopatra and his two brothers who live in America, are not angry. However, they want justice. They will not rest until the two cops are tried for murder.

Their case is that there was premeditation to the manslaughter. Why, when they entered the SpaceNet Internet Café, did they not call out Mr. Said’s name, introduce themselves as police officers and tell him he was being arrested?

Even if he tried to run, he could not have escaped. Two against one, with one cop firmly gripping Mr. Said’s neck, were sufficient to make a normal arrest.

Last week the head of the police force in Alexandria was replaced. The new man can change the course of the investigation and can influence what will happen in the next few months in Egypt.

Khaled Said exemplifies the issues that are influencing the political debate. There is growing incredulity that people being held in custody for alleged crimes and violations of the Emergency Law are not being tried in open civilian courts.

In Cleopatra people say their faith in the army is being tested beyond reasonable limits. At this point they feel the army will be needed for a couple of years to be the mainstay of security in the country.

What they want now is for the military to give up its all-purpose power to arrest, try and convict alleged offenders.

Politically they are undecided. The Muslim Brotherhood has not been particularly active in their area. Neither has any other party.

Secondly, they are unimpressed by the candidates that have announced their intention to run for the presidency. None has captured their imagination. None has offered a program that reflects the intensity of their desire for change.

Yes, we need jobs. Yes we need access to better schools and hospitals. And yes we want government services to be free of bribes and favoritism, they say.

But first we want justice, they say. Without that the revolution fails.

These are not the demands of pundits in Cairo TV studios. They are the voices on the streets of Alexandria. Their demands are similar to the ones voiced in Cairo. But they are less insistent on higher pay and living standards.

One woman explained. A university graduate, an impressive young woman who works seven days a week as a customer relations specialist, says she has only recently found a position where she is not being sexually harassed.

In her former jobs, her bosses cozied up to her and made their intentions abundantly clear. One would call me and say I was needed back in the office when I knew nobody else would be there, she says. I had to make excuses, such as saying I was out of town.

The new Egypt she wants gives full respect to women. That, she says will define the ethos of the revolution.

She, along with many here, will cast their votes later this year for those who declare their sympathy for a charter that affirms the rights of all people, no matter which religious group they come from, nor their leanings left or right on economics.

That is the justice they demand.

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