Al-Ahram Weekly Online   16 - 22 June 2011
Issue No. 1052
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Lamentable end

A funeral honouring the last "unknown" victims of the 25 January Revolution turned sour as claims emerged on their identities, reports Khaled Dawoud

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Prayers are held for the 19 people who were killed during the revolution

The funeral held one week ago at Al-Sayeda Nafisa Mosque for 19 unidentified victims killed during Egypt's 25 January Revolution four months ago was supposed to be a reminder of the heavy price Egyptians paid in their popular revolt against dictatorship. But the day turned sour in a flurry of accusations when it turned out that the bodies were not so anonymous.

The bodies arrived in coffins draped in the Egyptian flag, while a Muslim preacher together with a Christian priest led prayers in which a few hundred people, mostly from the neighbourhood, took part. Some women ululated, considering those buried to be "martyrs". Other young men who attended shouted slogans calling for accountability, saying "The people want the trial of the murderer," a reference to ousted president Hosni Mubarak whose trial will open 3 August on charges that he ordered the killing of protesters during the 25 January Revolution, in coordination with former interior minister Habib El-Adli.

A well-known Islamic televangelist, Sheikh Khaled El-Guindi, was among the first to raise the case of 19 bodies left in Zeinhom Morgue, run by the Ministry of Health, for over four months, asking his fans to help provide them a burial place. El-Guindi said he received several offers, and started working with others to arrange the funeral.

However, hours after the burial, which was delayed while there weren't enough ambulance cars to carry the bodies from the morgue to the mosque where the prayers were held, the deputy head of the Forensic Medicine Department, Magda Helal, made some shocking statements.

Helal told a popular television talk show that 17 of the 19 bodies belonged to prisoners who escaped from the main detention facility in the city of Fayoum, south of Cairo. Ironically, prison officials did not even report that there were prisoners missing, and that was why the identity of the majority of the deceased remained unknown. Helal added that five of the 19 bodies were identified, but none of their relatives came to pick them up. She also stated that the majority of the bodies arrived in blue prison uniform, meaning that they were serving jail terms. One body even arrived in a red prison uniform, meaning that he was awaiting the death penalty.

Complicating the situation further was what appeared to be a competition between two groups over providing a burial place for the 19 bodies.

Dina Kishk, a woman activist had worked on the case of the 19 bodies more than a month ago in coordination with other youth activists who took part in the 25 January Revolution, had already reached an agreement with the Ministry of Health to bury the dead in a cemetery that belonged to Cairo governorate. However, after the appeal of Sheikh El-Guindi, another lady, Jihan Abu Hussein, donated a private burial place at a cemetery in the 6 October City. Sheikh El-Guindi said the cemetery his supporter offered was in a much better condition, compared to the one owned by Cairo governorate in which bodies of unknown are buried and surrounded with trash and stray animals.

Kishk accused Sheikh El-Guindi and his supporters of delaying the burial because of their desire to turn the issue into a propaganda campaign. In the end, the bodies were buried in the Cairo governorate cemetery.

Ashraf Rifaai, head of the Autopsy Department at Zeinhom Morgue, criticised the Fayoum prison for failing to exert any effort to help identify the victims and inform their relatives. He said prison officials were obviously keen to deny any wrongdoing, or failure to prevent the escape of prisoners. He added that the morgue he works at received a total of 159 bodies during the revolution, and that all were buried except for the 19 bodies whose funeral was held 9 June.

Tarek Zeidan, a youth activist, rejected the entire controversy over the identity of the deceased, saying that they remained "martyrs" even if they were inmates who escaped prison. "They are victims of the previous regime and were killed during the 18 days of the revolution, so they had to be buried in honour."

Zeidan criticised the Ministry of Health for not taking DNA samples from the dead before they were buried in case some family members emerged in the future.

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