“Painfully Striking” photos tell the story of the death of a protester in Cairo

by Jeremy Griffith
American Millennium Online


On Jan. 24 of this year, socialist protestor Shaimaa  al-Shabbagh died very publically as professional and amateur photographers and videographers documented her passing in what has been described as “painfully striking” photos.   She was only 31 years old.


On that day she and her colleagues and friends gathered in their office in Cairo where they planned to lay a wreath in memory of those who died in previous protests . The city of Cairo and indeed the whole nation of Egypt has been wracked with protests, many turning violent as the nation attempts to assert its identity in the midst of all the political strife and chaos. Members of the leftist Socialist People’s Alliance Party, which included Shabbagh and her friends, intended to stage a peaceful protest in a popular square in Cairo where they would sing songs and lay a memorial wreath. Their plans changed suddenly when they were confronted by security forces who allegedly fired upon them with tear gas, and birdshot. Undoubtedly, the officers intended their tactics to be “less than lethal” but intent and result are not always the same thing as regrettably, Shabbagh was fatally wounded after she was shot, point blank in the back with bird shot.


Photos taken at the scene by photographer Islam Osama are heart-rending, carried today via Reuters and commented upon by John Beck of Vice News in his article Anatomy of a Killing: How Shaimaa al-Shabbagh was shot dead at a Cairo protest. You can read the whole article and see the photographs here.


An un-named security forces Brigadier General is being blamed for giving the order to his men to fire upon the protesters. They did so with tragic result. Beck writes that the leader of the SPAP organization which organized the protest attempted to inform the brigadier of their peaceful intent and was faced with a blustering officer uninterested in their intent or their rights. While they were still speaking, the men began to open fire.


Friends of Shabbagh are pictured with her in these movingly sad photos attempting to extricate her from the situation. But it was to no avail. She died on the street, slumped over in a plastic lawn chair outside of a popular local cafe. A doctor arrived and pronounced her dead. Police accused of shooting her did nothing to render aid or answer the pleas for help of Shabbagh’s friends. Instead those friends were all arrested and charged with crimes, including public protest, which is apparently illegal in Egypt now.


Sadly I have heard nothing of this situation from other media. Isis in Iraq and Syria seem to have taken sole ownership of the airwaves and the turmoil in Egypt has been relegated to the “old news” bin at the city editor’s desk. I for one would like to see the video and more of the photos that allegedly show the moment when Shabbagh was shot. I would like to see the main stream media cover and analyze this event. Freedom of press and of people to peacefully protest in Egypt is at stake if the charges against the government are true. The government is being led by former Army General El-Sisi, who has had a good reputation up until now, since he has ousted his Muslim Brotherhood backed predecessor and taken control of the government. Incidents like this will tarnish that image if the government doesn’t respond appropriately.


To avoid chaos, the government has to be forthright about what happened in this incident and it cannot shift blame if the security forces deserve blame. The officer who shot the protestor should be charged and his leaders should be held accountable. And the right to freedom of expression and of peaceful protest and redress of grievances should be valued and re-established in that country, regardless of the source of that expression. A nation cannot be truly free if the people are threatened with violence for merely speaking their minds. Admittedly, we don’t do that well enough here in the land of the free so we are no good example, i.e. Ferguson. But we must support the freedom of expression, both here and abroad. The only way we can do that is to demand transparency.


In the meantime, artist and writer Shaima al-Shabbagh is dead and buried, and her family and friends, including a young son, morn her loss. Very sad.


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