Police Day 2011: Artists Inspired by Khaled Said

I am still looking for some good Khaled Said-inspired poetry, but novelist and essayist Alaa al-Aswany—who, to his credit, has announced that he will be out in the streets today—has written a well-done, Said-inspired essay.

And Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff has been churning out Said-, Tunis-, and revolution-inspired work.

From Al-Aswany’s June 2010 essay, “An Attempt to Understand the Causes of Cruelty:”

It was Wednesday, June the 13th, 1906.

Egypt was under British occupation and five British officers went out into the country to shoot pigeons. One of them accidentally started a fire and wounded a peasant woman. The villagers gathered around and chased away the British officers, one of whom died of sunstroke. Lord Cromer, the British governor of Egypt at the time, considered the incident a form of rebellion and decided to punish the Egyptians severely to preserve the prestige of the British Empire and its troops. He ordered 52 Egyptians arrested and after a rapid trial which did not meet the legal norms 32 of them were convicted, four to death by hanging and the others to flogging or imprisonment with hard labour. The sentences were carried out in front of the peasants’ wives and children. The outrage became known by the name of the village where the incident took place: Denshawai in Menoufia province. Public opinion in Egypt was enraged against the brutal crime committed by the British occupation and too many writers and poets to mention wrote articles and poems condemning the executions at Denshawai, from the nationalist leader Mustafa Kamel , who launched a campaign against the British occupation in the Western press, to Ahmed Shawki, ‘the Prince of Poets’, Hafez Ibrahim, Kassem Amin and many others. In Britain itself British intellectuals and politicians condemned the British response, led by the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who write a famous article entitled ‘A Day of Shame’ for the British Empire’. This widespread campaign led to the dismissal of Lord Cromer and a full amnesty for the villagers imprisoned.

Like all Egyptians I studied the Denshawai incident in primary school and then forgot about it for years. But I thought about it again when I was following the horrible crime which the Egyptian regime recently committed in the city of Alexandria, when two police detectives beat Khaled Said, an unarmed and peaceful young man, until his skull was crushed and he died in front of them. When I saw a picture of Khaled Said with his face mutilated from torture, I found myself making a saddening comparison: in the Denshawai incident four Egyptian peasants were executed and another peasant was shot dead by the British, in other words the death toll was five, but how many victims of torture have there been under the present regime? According to the statistics of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, in only eight years (between 2000 and 2008), 113 Egyptians died from the effects of torture in police stations and state security premises. After the Denshawai incident the British occupation authorities had 32 Egyptians flogged, but how many Egyptians have been tortured by the Egyptian police? Over the period 2000 to 2008, the number amounts to 275 documented cases of torture, besides of course dozens of cases where the victims refrained from reporting they had been tortured for fear of revenge by the police. This leads us to a strange fact: the number of victims of repression by the Egyptian regime is dozens of time greater than the number of victims in the Denshawai incident. This begs some questions: why is the regime so cruel to Egyptians, and why do Egyptians treat fellow Egyptians worse than the British occupation forces treated Egyptians in their time? To find an answer, we need to compare occupation and despotism, which are similar in many respects.

The brutal way that Khaled Said was murdered has found its place in the history of Egypt and the memory of Egyptians for ever. Those truly responsible for the murder of Khaled Said are not the detectives who beat him to death, nor the commissioner who sent them nor the director of security nor even the minister of the interior. The prime responsibility for the murder of Khaled Said and of all the victims of torture lies with the head of state who, if he wanted to prevent Egyptians being tortured, could do so with a single word, in fact with a single wave of his hand. If Khaled Said had been European, American or Israeli, President Mubarak would have intervened personally to have the killers arrested and severely punished. But it was Khaled Said’s wretched luck to be born Egyptian at a time when Egyptians are slaughtered like stray dogs, with impunity and without any impartial investigation or even a word of apology. The murder of Khaled Said is a turning point by which Egyptians have understood how subjugated and humiliated they have become and how they can never live in freedom and dignity until Egypt rids itself of despotism.

Democracy is the solution.

Read the rest of the essay on Al-Aswany’s blog.

More on Police Day 2011:

From The Arabist: “On the occasion of Police Day”

From Zeinobia: “The 25th Big Day”

From Al Masry Al Youm: “Egypt’s Police: From Liberators to Oppressors