Decoding Egypt: Beyond Al-Nada Murder

Nael M. Shama
6 Min Read

CAIRO: The recent murder of two college girls at Al-Nada Compound, Sheikh Zayed City could be seen as an ordinary killing that only merits sorrow and sympathy, but, from a social perspective, it highlighted so vividly three basic aspects of the Egyptian society and its present mindset.

First, it was a reminder of the distressing reality that women in Egypt are besieged dead and alive. The tabloids that counterfeited stories about the misdemeanor of the victims most probably did so because their editors well knew that their readers would unconsciously want to buy these fake stories.

Associating women with all sorts of evils is somehow satisfying to the mentality of male-dominated societies, which are inclined to believe that the sole function of women is to satisfy men’s sexual needs and provide means to reproduction.

Equality of men and women in Egypt is a mirage.

Secondly, Cairo is torn, physically and psychologically, between two diverse, nearly hostile branches that are destined to share the same metropolis. Thus, it is not unrealistic to speak of two Cairos: the first is composed of the overpopulated, underdeveloped slums strongly reminiscent of overcrowded Asian cities and the second is made up of the new residential compounds that endeavored to reenact the spirit of stylish European cities. Unlike the neighborhoods of old Cairo which accommodated, in harmony and peace, the castles of Pashas, the houses of middle class merchants and state clerks and the ‘Takaya’ (hospices) of Sufi orders, the new Cairo imposes segregation, limited interaction and shallow mutual knowledge – something that inspired poet Ahmed Fouad Negm to say: “long live my countrymen; there is no acquaintance amongst them that makes the alliance lives on.

Asia does not see eye to eye with Europe.

It is interesting to observe that the life of the arrested suspect, Mahmoud Essawy, did not physically cross the boundaries of the underprivileged neighborhoods of Rod El-Farag (where he lives) and Sabtiya (where he works). These areas comprised the boundaries of his mind and soul as well.

In the same vein, residents of the other Cairo have no or little contact with the slums and shanty towns that have mushroomed in the second half of the 20th century.

Essawy had worked as a blacksmith in the classy compound five years ago and it must have been a very powerful experience for a young teenager. It was perhaps his sole interaction with a social and economic milieu that is entirely different from his own. This explains why it has resonated in his memory for so long that it became his first choice when he decided, just three weeks ago, to “steal the rich.

Thirdly, conspiracy theory has become a national hobby. To many skeptical Egyptians, indubitable forensic evidence and the comprehensive confession of Essawy did not matter much; the power of hidden desires and preconceived perceptions have apparently overpowered rational calculations of reality. Surely, the state has often conspired against its people and Essawy’s nonchalant reacting of the heinous butchery at the crime scene nurtured the suspicion that he was forced to admit it (forget not that torture is the prime leisure activity of many Egyptian policemen). But that does not justify the belief that the all the deeds of all state agencies reflect nothing but conspiracies and tricks.

The hypothesis that the case against Essawy was fabricated – as baseless as it as – misses a crucial point. The several generations that have grown up over the past three or four decades in the impoverished areas of the Egyptian capital have been prone to developing a type of personality that seems awkward since it is antithetical to the soul of the Egyptian character as known and recorded by numerous historians and anthropologists over the past few centuries.

Harsh social and financial conditions could be a breeding ground for human beings that tend to be stolid, aggressive, psychologically disturbed, prone to drug addiction, prone to having a criminal record of petty offenses, mistrustful of the haves and indignant at life’s injustices. These areas provided the major recruiting pool for the violent Islamic groups that brutally harnessed thousands of innocent lives in their ‘quest for purity and salvation.’

New social realities produce new attitudes, new types of crimes.

To sociologists and anthropologists, the crime section in newspapers provides priceless treasures of information. The recent murder may not uncover new realities but it confirms that women are maltreated dead and alive, the fabric of the society is disintegrating at an alarming rate, and conspiracy theory is the standard mode of thinking in Egypt.

Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo.

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