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

Forgotten heroes

Around 8,000 civilians were injured during Egypt's 25 January Revolution. What has happened to them since, asks Amira El-Noshokaty

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Doctors in Tahrir Square saved the lives of many protestors, setting up a basic infirmary

For 26-year-old Tamer Hassanein, an independent construction worker and the father of two children, Egypt's 25 January Revolution ought to have come as a form of salvation. Like many Egyptians, he joined the protests on 28 January in order to claim a better future. However, instead of that future he got a bullet in his chest, leading to the removal of one of his kidneys and part of his intestines.

"They said that Prime Minister Essam Sharaf will send me compensation of LE1,000. Is that the only compensation I can expect from the state? My family paid twice as much as that just visiting me in hospital," Hassanein says. "I am married with children and am paying LE300 in rent a month. Now my condition does not allow me to work. How am I going to support my children?"

At the premises of the NGO Takreem, now undergoing registration, people like Hassanein who were injured during the revolution gather to follow up on their medical and financial support, helped by a group of women who sided with the revolution from day one.

Hassanein had to have three operations in the Nasser Hospital, and on leaving the hospital he was presented with a bill for LE57,000. When he said that the medical care he had received ought to have been charged to the public budget, he was told that he should have gone to another state hospital. For his fourth operation, Heba El-Sewidi, one of the NGO's volunteers, arranged for Hassanein's bills to be covered by the Qasr Al-Eini Hospital.

Today, Hassanein is preparing for a fifth operation. Meanwhile, he has no source of income apart from the funds he receives from the NGO and other civil society organisations.

"They are heroes, and it's their right to receive proper treatment," says Shahira Mehrez, founding member of Takreem, of people like Hassanein. Mehrez, together with fellow board member Zeinab Ramadan and other women friends, have been supporting the injured from the beginning of the revolution, bringing blankets and food to protesters in Tahrir Square and providing the Qasr Al-Eini Hospital with funds in order to help cover the costs of medical care of those injured during the revolution.

"We have managed to help 300 injured people, and we are helping to look after them on a monthly basis," explained Ramadan.

One of the main reasons behind establishing the NGO was to fundraise to create job opportunities and rehabilitation for the injured, in order that they could in future support themselves. "We never thought that the government would wait four months to respond" to our efforts, Mehrez said, explaining that one of the main aims of the NGO was to help those injured in the revolution to find work in future as well as securing them a quota in all companies and factories.

"We want to give them a hand and to help them find appropriate employment. If they are evicted from their homes because they cannot pay the rent, we aim to help them financially. According to the NGO's letters of registration, its aim is to help provide rehabilitation and job opportunities in the form of micro-credit. The people we deal with keep reminding us that êwe are not beggars and we want to work,'" Ramadan concludes.

There is no doubt that one of the biggest supporters of the Egyptian revolution was civil society. Providing medical aid, a basic human right, is something NGOs gracefully granted to anyone who needed it.

From 25 January to the present, civil society organisations, whether in the form of individual initiatives, networking, or non-governmental organisations have joined hands to create a safety net for Egyptian heroes who lost either their lives or their livelihoods in fighting for the future of their country.

These people asked for nothing in return but a job to help support their families. However, such heroes have not been on the government's priority list. Since the stepping down from power of former president Hosni Mubarak in February, calls for state funding to pay for treatment for the injured have often gone unanswered, apart from the one-off payments of LE1,000 in compensation.

It wasn't until some of the victims started to demonstrate last week in front of the Egyptian cabinet building in Cairo that the government began to listen. One day later, Prime Minister Sharaf asked the Ministry of Finance to create a fund for the injured and their families that would help to compensate them financially and rehabilitate the injured.

However, according to Mai Raafat, a member of Revolution Aid, a network of volunteers that provides medical care and rehabilitation programmes, as well as job opportunities, for those affected by the revolution, "the prime minister's latest declaration is not clear enough."

Raafat and other members of civil society organisations were concerned when the prime minister's deputy asked them to hand in lists of those who were injured during the revolution and the types of injury. While they managed to put together a unified list, which will be handed to the government at the end of the week, she raises the question of why the Ministry of Health does not itself have records of the injured.

Gathering accurate figures of those injured has been problematic, explains Tarek Zaghloul, director of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), which has been working for the rights of those injured during the 25 January Revolution.

"For starters," Zaghloul says, "during the revolution in numerous cases there were no hospital records. Instead, the records would simply state that an injury was due to a live bullet and that's it, no specifics."

Nevertheless, the impromptu field hospital set up in Tahrir Square during the revolution did a tremendous job, he adds. "Doctors came to us with records and their own testimonies, which we used to fill in the necessary legal forms." On a parallel note, the EOHR has now filed some 1,000 legal cases on behalf of those injured during the revolution. According to the organisation, there are some 8,000 people injured during the revolution throughout Egypt.

Friends of the Tahrir Victims is another NGO dedicated to providing medical, social and psychological rehabilitation for those injured during the Tahrir Square demonstrations. In its less than one month of existence the NGO has managed to reach out to some 100 cases, explains Pousy Mossad, a spokesperson. "Please treat us well and we will go out to work," are the kind of comments that Mossad gets on a daily basis. However, "these people are our heroes, and the government is obliged to grant them full compensation," she says.

Older, longer-established NGOs have also adjusted their programmes in order to incorporate the needs of the injured. According to Ahmed Fawzi, responsible for vocational training at the Alashanek Ya Baladi (AYB) association, after the revolution the NGO realised that many companies had frozen the employment or even marginalised some of those affected.

"So we thought of integrating people who had been negatively affected during the revolution, whether injured or having lost their jobs, into our micro-loan project, meaning that we'd increase the budget of the loans and help to support families and individuals affected by the revolution," he said. The association is looking into 20 applications for micro credits from those affected by the revolution.

"These people are all workers and government employees. They say that they would rather be dead than accept the state's compensation. Above all, the problems of such people should be given priority," Zaghloul says.

Revolutionary facts and figures

LAST week, an event honouring the martyrs of the Egyptian revolution was held at Dar A-Hekma and hosted by Motadaminon, a solidarity initiative set up by Dr Mohamed Othman, whose idea of creating a medical network during the revolution helped save lives.

Now affiliated with the Arab Medical Union, Motadaminon celebrated the recovery of 360 injured people cared for since the revolution. Most of the families it has worked with need major psychological support, the organisation says, adding that of the injured persons cared for, 162 were shot by live bullets.

Most of those injured were between the ages of 22 and 30 years old, and the highest rate of injury was in Cairo. The most common form of injury was injury to the eyes.

'I don't want to be a burden'

HANI Omar, 31 and married with children, used to work in a dry-cleaning shop.

"I was shot on 28 January. Choking on the tear gas used in Tahrir Square, on trying to leave I found myself trapped between Special Security Forces and the police, who shot me in the leg with live ammunition.

"I was taken to the Al-Hilal Hospital, but the bullet stayed in my leg for three days because there were other critical cases that needed to be treated immediately. Despite numerous operations, my leg is still infected. Due to my medical status, I've lost my job because it necessitates my standing up, which I cannot do yet. My family has been very supportive thus far as a result of individual efforts, but so far there has been all talk and no action from the government.

"I believe that Egypt is a well-off country, and we should be given our rights by the government. Why should we rely on people to pay from their own pockets? Had it not been for kind people who helped us to pay for medical care we would have found ourselves begging. I don't want to be a burden. But circumstances are forcing us to accept financial aid, which we would rather not do if we had the choice."

'I hope they see things from a humanitarian perspective'

HOSSAM Abdel-Mawgoud, 33, is an employee at the Ministry of Culture. He was shot with live bullets in front of the Giza police station on 29 January, when joining the families of those who had been detained by the police in a protest and chanting for their release.

"I was the first one to get shot in the legs by the police. I was taken to Qasr Al-Eini Hospital, which covered the costs of my operation. I had 13 metal clips implanted in my legs. Except for the operation fees, I had to pay for all the post-operation follow-up because my medical insurance is inadequate and will not pay for the physiotherapy treatment that I need. I have registered with another hospital, and to prove that I can have insurance coverage I have to be seen by a committee. I will have to be bedridden for at least two months after the operation to remove the metal clips.

"However, I also needed another operation to help me bend my legs, and this was carried out by Austrian specialists who volunteered the costs of the operation. To my surprise, the Nasser Hospital wanted to charge me for the operation on the grounds that I am a ministry employee with medical insurance and do not qualify for free medical treatment. The hospital even kept my identification card until I got the necessary papers from the insurance company.

"I never thought that this would be the reaction of the government. Now my salary is LE350, and I have lost my night job, which was a major financial support for me.

'Now I have lost my job'

MAHMOUD Abdel-Naaim is a 36-year-old driver. He was driving up Mohamed Mahmoud Street on 25 January.

"The road was blocked, so I stepped out of the car to have a look, and a minute later I was shot in the eye by a live bullet. As a result, I was hospitalised and did not have a chance to join the revolution. Now I have lost my work and undergone two operations. I am now working in a supermarket at a third of my previous wages."

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