Updated: Article proposing idea of killing Egyptian street children stirs fury

Ahram Online , Friday 20 Jun 2014

An op-ed in Al-Masry Al-Youm suggested that Egypt should follow 'the Brazilian solution' to the problem of homeless children; the paper pulls down article off website following angry reactions

Egypt’s street children
Egypt’s street children (Photo: Reuters)

An op-ed in a major Egyptian newspaper which suggests police could kill street children to clean-up streets was pulled from the paper’s website on Friday after a public outcry.

The piece in Al-Masry Al-Youm, written by academic Nassar Abdullah, suggests that the “solution” to the problem of street children in Egypt is to follow what he describes as the "Brazilian solution," referring to the mass killing of homeless children by Brazilian security forces in the 1990s.

"In the 1990s, street children in Brazil's major towns turned from a source of annoyance to a source of terror, increasingly committing crimes including rape, prostitution and murder, while the economic situation of Brazil was similar to Egypt’s present condition," wrote the academic, adding that rehabilitation of street children was costly.

"Thus the Brazilian security forces unleashed a campaign to hunt down and kill the street children like stray dogs, to avoid the dangers," he said.

"That harsh solution managed to cleanse the streets of major cities in Brazil from street children. It happened because the political leadership had the will to reform and to fight corruption as well to provide jobs. This is the lesson everyone should learn from the Brazilian experience," he wrote.

The article apparently refers to the Candelária massacre in Rio de Janeiro in 1990 when at least eight homeless children were killed outside the Candelária cathedral in an infamous incident that created uproar both locally and internationally.

Several men, including policemen, stood a trial for the murder of the children, and two were found guilty.

Abdullah, a recipient of the state award in arts in 2009, is a professor of moral and political philosophy at Sohag University. He is also a writer and translator as well a poet.

Thousands of Egyptians took to Twitter and Facebook to criticise the article, calling on the newspaper to pull the op-ed and apologise.

Estimates of the numbers of homeless children in Egypt vary considerably, but some researchers put the figure as high as one million.

Nelly Ali, an activist who works with Egyptian street children, criticised Abdullah's article in her own blog, stating that the street children were not a disease that needed a cure in the society but rather a symptom of a bigger problem.

"Street children are but a symptom of the ills, not only of society but of delusional and weak governments and states that cannot stop the vulnerable children from escaping abusive homes and adults and finding refuge in the dangers of the street," she said Ali in her post, in which she also recounted the events of Candelária massacre in Brazil.

She also invited Abdullah to join her in her sessions with street children.

"I invite you to accompany us, who work with these children, to the maternity ward and see the abuse by the staff there of the frightened 13 or 14-year-olds who we take in to give birth as they carry the shame, alone, of being raped by a family member, or a policeman, or a carer, or someone on the street,” she wrote.

In statements to Radio Netherlands Worldwide's Arabic website, "Hunasotak," Nassar Abdullah denied Friday that he called for the mass killing of street children, insisting that his op-ed was completely misunderstood. 
"What I meant in my op-ed was that the way to raise nations is through reforms and development and not through the use of violence and oppression," he told Hunasotak in a telephone call Friday afternoon. 
"All I want to say in my op-ed is that the Brazilians were brave enough to take such decisions and succeeded in reform to the degree that such horrifying decisions like killing street children would pass without any legal consequence, as they succeeded in solving that problem in general," the professor of moral and political philosophy said, insisting that he was totally against the killing of street children. 
The writer, whose op-ed caused huge controversy when published, added that there should be true reform and job opportunities in Egypt so the people would not find their children joining street children and decision makers would not apply "the Brazilian solution," as he phrased it.
Al-Masry Al-Youm removed the op-ed from its website on Friday, noting that the institution’s legal advisors had recommended that it be removed because it included an incitement to violence.

"The newspaper is committed to the reader and to society's right for freedom of expression and freedom of views and so it published the op-ed; once again, in view of the right of the reader and of society, it has removed the article,” the statement read.

Recently in the same newspaper, renowned writer Ali Salem wrote in his column that the Egyptian police should form death squads like French far right nationalist group "Honneur de la Police" of the late 1970s to target all those who kill police officers on the streets of Egypt.

Hundreds of police officers have been killed and injured in attacks and clashes since the ousting of president Mohamed Morsi in July last year.

Salem's op-ed also drew huge criticism; jailed April 6 Youth Movement leader Ahmed Maher wrote a letter from prison attacking the writer, saying that he was calling the police force to violate the law and the constitution in the name of the police’s dignity.

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