A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beating Death in Alexandria Sparks Protests

Over the past few days tension has been building over the beating death, in Alexandria, of a young man reportedly hauled from a cyber cafe and beaten by police. Amid some reports that he may have been killed over an Internet video exposing the police, there has been a rallying round on social media sites. The Arabist has a good round-up of the main elements of the story. The juxtaposition of photos of the young man in life and his shattered face in death have added to the outrage, but before clicking through let me note that they're pretty grisly.

I'll let you click through to the accounts. It's fairly typical. At first the police say the young man consumed a large bag of drugs. When investigation shows that's not what happened, and if there were any drugs they were in the hands of the police, the police say things are still under investigation.

Since I'm not in Egypt, it's hard to judge the mood. Facebook groups can be evanescent, and it's a lot safer joining a group than a demonstration. Khaled Saad is not the first, nor is he likely to be the last, to die as a result of a police that considers itself above the law.

On the other hand, it's the latest outrage in a growing list of complaints: labor union protests, strikes, the ElBaradei phenomenon, harassment of the opposition, and so on, which, coming at a moment when the succession question is very much on people's minds, could conceivably lead to some sort of critical mass which could provoke change. But so far, that critical mass has not been reached.

This is, however, precisely the sort of incident that particularly outrages people: Khaled Said was not some high profile opposition figure, but an unknown. If he can be pulled from a cafe and beaten to death by police, anyone can. The sheer pettiness of the scale in which a human life was ended adds to the fury.

Each time some new protest occurs, the opposition seems confident that the Egyptian public's patience is at a breaking point; each time it turns out to be, not yet. But in the social networking age, it's not just the family and neighbors or a human rights group that hears of it. And even if nothing changes, a lot more people know how Khaled Said died.

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