Egypt’s city of Suez on Wednesday saw the largest mass demonstrations since last year’s 28 January “Friday of Rage,” with thousands of protesters marching to the city’s centrally-located Arbaeen Square to voice opposition to military rule.
Suez is already well-known for its revolutionary credentials: the first casualties of the January uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak fell in the canal city. One year ago to the day, three protesters were killed after police opened fire with live ammunition during the wave of anti-regime protests that engulfed the city. Throughout the course of the uprising’s 18 days, more than 25 protesters were killed in Suez.
Earlier this month, Ahram Online met with the families of several Suez residents slain during the uprising, many of whom expressed anger and resentment over how Egypt’s ruling military council had treated them over the course of the last year.
Relatives of slain protesters pointed in particular to the fact that 14 Suez residents accused of shooting protesters – including several police officers and Suez businessman Ibrahim Farag – have yet to face prosecution. While the suspects all face murder charges, their trial remains ongoing after having already been subject to several delays. A number of the defendants, meanwhile, including Farag, have also been released on bail.
Some relatives of killed protesters also told Ahram Online that, if the court did not deliver a verdict before the revolution’s first anniversary, they would be forced to take justice into their own hands.
Tamer Radwan, whose 31-year-old brother was shot dead in Suez last 28 January, said he had convinced some 3,500 relatives of slain protesters in Suez, Cairo and Alexandria to march on the capital on the revolution’s first anniversary. According to Radwan, protesters intend to storm Cairo’s Tora Prison, in which several Mubarak-era officials remain incarcerated, and execute them in retribution for the deaths of their loved ones.
On Wednesday, however, it appeared that Radwan and his 3,500 followers had not gone through with their plan. Nevertheless, Suez, the city that ignited last year’s revolution, remains tense, teeming with protesters demanding that Egypt’s ruling military council – which they blame for failing them and their slain children – relinquish power without delay.
Shortly before the revolution's first anniversary, Ahram Online's Yasmine Fathi visited some of the families of the martyrs of Suez. The following is her report from 12 January.
V for vengeance: In Suez, the blood of martyrs remains on the asphalt
In Suez, legend has it that the asphalt paving the city’s streets does not soak up blood. So if a martyr is shot dead, his blood remains in the place he fell. It may blacken, the locals say, but it will remain there and the families of the martyrs will have to step over the signature of their loved ones' dying moment forever.
“Every day we live with the memory that our children have died and their blood has been spilt in vain,” says Sayeda Awad, whose son Mohamed, 27, was shot dead during Egypt’s Friday of Anger on 28 January 2011. "We pass by the blood and can't simply ignore it."
Awad, who has one other son, says that as the first anniversary of the January 25 Revolution approaches, the families of martyrs feel that they have not yet seen justice done.
“This first anniversary is going to be hard, because it marks the first year of the revolution, but also the fact that it has been a year since my son was killed,” says Awad.
The fully veiled woman starts sobbing as she relates the story of how her son was shot in the back while walking in the streets of Suez during the clashes. Her other son is married, she says, and Mohamed, who used to be a worker in a contractor’s company was her lifeline.
“He lived with me and I used to wait every day to hear his keys turn in the door,” cries Awad. “Now my only quest in life is to get justice for my son.”
However, it has not been easy for Awad and other families to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of 27 martyrs in Suez alone. As soon as the 18-day uprising ended, the ruling military council stalled in arresting police who were responsible for shooting protesters. When arrests came, the numbers were low and families claim that many of the officers responsible roam free. They then began to watch as the trials of those indicted proceeded at a snail’s pace with frequent postponements.
According to Khaled Omar, a lawyer representing martyrs' families, there are 14 suspects currently on trial for killing protesters in Suez. These include Suez businessman Ibrahim Farag and his two sons, who are accused of directly shooting protesters from the top of their house in Abdel Khalek Tharwat Street in Suez. The protesters were in the street heading to the police station and Farag, a powerful figure in the district, allegedly helped the police in shooting protesters. However, says Omar, the trial has already been postponed six times and several of the officers were released on bail. The next session is expected to take place on 12 January, when the court is expected to hear the defence; then the case, says Omar, will probably be postponed a few more times.
However, this is no longer good enough for the families of martyrs who insist on seeing justice or vengeance for their children. The families of martyrs in Egypt previously rejected a proposal by the Muslim Brotherhood to accept diya (blood money) as compensation for their children’s deaths in return for dropping cases against officers on trial. The Suez families shot back that maybe they can kill the children of the leaders of the Brotherhood and then see how happy they would be in accepting money afterwards.
Needless to say, it’s been a difficult year for the families who have been left frustrated and feeling misunderstood. Fed up, they have now come up with a plan to deal with a justice system they say has repeatedly failed them. One of them, Tamer Radwan, 29, has decided to kill all those responsible himself.
“Most families in Suez have weapons and we will do what we need to do so that the blood of our loved ones is not lost in vain,” he says.
Radwan’s voice oozes with anger as he tells his story. His 31-year-old brother Sherif was shot dead on the Friday of Anger. Radwan, says that he saw Farag and his two sons aim and shoot the bullet.
“The first hit my brother in the heart and killed him immediately and the other whizzed right past my ears,” says Radwan.
He has been living with his rage for almost a year now. However, things took a turn for the worst when the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted five police officers and released them. The officers were charged with killing protesters in front of the Sayeda Zeinab Police Station near downtown Cairo during 28-29 January. The news reverberated across the country as the families of martyrs wondered if the murderers of their own children would also be declared innocent.
“This was the turning point for us; this is when we decided that we obviously need to do what the judicial system couldn’t,” says Radwan.
So, after an emergency meeting, the families came up with a plan. On 25 January, at 10am, 3,500 family members of martyrs from Cairo, Alexandria and Suez will board buses and head to Tora Prison, where many officials of the Mubarak regime are languishing, including former interior minister Habib El-Adly, believed to have given the police orders to shoot, and Farag and his two sons. He says that they will also be joined by 15,000 youths from different parties and coalitions and the group will then proceed to attack the prison.
“Once we get there, we will attack it. We will use stones, pebbles, weapons, or whatever we can get our hands on,” declares Radwan. “But Sherif’s death will not be for nothing. If I cannot get justice for him, I may as well die.”
While Radwan’s plan is simple, it may not be that feasible, given how heavy security will be around the country, as security forces prepare for the likelihood that the first anniversary may turn violent. Buses, he says, have been provided to them, but he would not say by who. As for the weapons, he claims that many of Suez's families come from Upper Egypt, from areas like Gerga, Qena and Sohag, cities where most homes have a weapon or two.
“Our families from there will come with the weapons, to help us get justice,” he says.
Radwan understands that his plan verges on madness. He says that his parents, who already lost a son, are pressuring him to not go ahead with it. He also has two young sons to worry about. However, for him, all this is mere background noise. His goal is to get justice for Sherif and this is all he thinks about.
“You know, Sherif came to me in my dreams and thanked me. He told me ‘I’m happy with you, Tamer, because you keep demanding retribution for me,’ and this makes me feel that I am on the right path no matter what,” says Radwan. “I will do it for my brother.”
However, while Radwan seems convinced of his plans, many in Suez, and several families of martyrs, seem confused. Mohamed Farghaly, whose 24-year-old son Ahmed was shot during the revolution, is still unsure. His son remained in the hospital for two weeks before finally succumbing to his wounds. Ahmed held a diploma of commerce but was not yet employed. He was supposed to get married in July 2011.
Farghaly is a soft spoken man who walks around with a small poster of his son in his pocket. He is frustrated because the government has made life hard for the families of martyrs. He complains that the prosecution has released a report of his son’s criminal record, claiming that he was indicted nine times for various crimes. However, stresses Farghaly, these are no more than allegations to make it appear that he was a thug and the officers who shot him were defending themselves.
However, despite, his anger, Farghaly is not too keen on Radwan’s plan.
“We don’t want it to reach this level,” he says. “But I want execution for all of them, from Mubarak to the lowliest of officers who participated in the shootings. The only thing that has changed in the last year is that the government has turned our children from martyrs to thugs. We want vengeance.”
Omar also feels uneasy, stressing that the families of martyrs will not commit any violent attacks and Radwan has made such proclamations because of his grief over his dead brother. “I have said before that I am against any form of violence,” the lawyer says.
Others seem be in two minds about the plan. Awad says that she is wary about what might happen in the next few days. “We don’t want to make a massacre, but God says that those who killed have to be killed,” says Awad. “The government shouldn’t push us to reach this level. But if we get our hands on these killers, then God save them from us.”
Mohamed Fayez, whose 54-year-old father, Fayez Faheem, was also killed during the uprising in Suez, says that the families may opt to join Radwan’s plan if they don’t find justice in the next two weeks.
“Maybe Tamer was emotional when he was speaking, but if he does it, if he really goes to Tora, I will join him,” says Fayez.
Radwan says there are 3,500 family members who are more than happy to join him on the one-year anniversary. He adds that because of the severity of the situation, many prefer to keep quiet on the subject.
“But we will get them; all of them,” vows Radwan. “They can hide at the ends of the world and still that wouldn’t be too far for us.”
Radwan says that they will only backtrack on their plans if the courts sentence the accused officers before 25 January. Since it is not likely that a verdict will be announced by that time, it seems Radwan will go ahead with the plan. He says that he is being threatened to not go ahead with it. He claims that his phone is bugged and that one month ago his family was attacked by a group of thugs as they were walking in the street. All this, however, has not fazed him.
“I will only be happy if they either get a death sentence or are declared innocent,” says Radwan. “It may sound weird that I want them to be innocent, but I say this because if they are innocent we can personally settle the score with them in the street when they are released. Prison sentences are not good enough. We want death for them; either through the executioner’s noose in prison or with our own hands in the street.”