A lot of young people haven’t come home, laments Ameera Fouad
Some questions can never be answered. One of these seems to be where are those reported missing since 25 January 2011, the start of the Egyptian revolution? According to data released in March 2011 by the Cabinet Information Centre, 1,200 were reported missing. Since no attempt to find them has been made by any official authority, human rights groups started launching their own search and find campaigns.
One of the most prominent is 7anlaihom (We will find them) campaign. 7anlaihom has elicited data from the Cabinet Information Centre and other activists and groups that might know something about the real number of those who have disappeared. The campaign has managed to draw media attention to the cause. Many families have increasingly helped the campaign to bring back missing ones. As Nermine Youssri, one of the campaign members, put it, “the last record made by the Cabinet Information Centre dates back to March 2011, this means that two whole years are dropped from the records and hence the numbers have increased, raising estimates to 3,000 to 4,000.”
Recent clashes and sit-ins increased the tally to 500 missing persons. Incidents like Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Maspero, the cabinet in Qasr Al-Aini, Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace, and more have led to many other citizens gone missing. “So we do urge their families to come to us so that they could be listed in our database and so that we help them find them,” Youssri added.
In August 2012, a huge press conference was held by the campaign to raise awareness for such a major cause. Families of the missing narrated the stories of how their sons and daughters disappeared and the circumstances surrounding their sudden disappearance. Ahmed Seif Al-Islam, a human rights activist and an eminent lawyer, says, “actually there are three groups of missing ones: those who might have been arrested without notifying their families; those who might have been arrested but the police did not record their names; and the most tragic of all, those who might have been killed or tortured to death. It is a devastating feeling to know that many of the families of those missing just wish to find the bodies of their sons and daughters. As stated officially by the campaign on the 7anlaihom Facebook page, “a mother of a missing child envies the mother of a martyr. At least, she knows where her son is, in heavens above.”
Mohamed Eleiwa, the campaign coordinator, says “what we are focussing on is to spotlight such a cause via all media and social networks, newspapers, press conferences and TV channels. We also hold lots of sit-ins on streets and put up stickers and posters of the faces of those who have disappeared on walls on streets. We have lots of things to do but cooperation of officials is what we are aiming for.”
Youssri spotlights again the problems the campaign faces. “We face a major problem, that of creating a database especially since many families of the missing sometimes don’t want to cooperate as they are afraid the same might happen to their children. They are seemingly banned from talking to any media.” Youssri adds that some people had told her they would not be able to talk about or spread news about their missing ones.
Nevertheless, after what seemed endless efforts of families and the campaign, a few have been found. Hussein Fathi, 11, was fortunate enough to be amongst those very few.
After spending more than 30 days away from home, this young man narrates his story while he was in Mohamed Mahmoud Street on 23 November. “I was in Tahrir Square on Friday morning, 23 November, till 3pm and then I walked towards Mohamed Mahmoud Street. As dawn began to fall, police fired tear gas. I fainted and everything went black. Afterwards, I found myself in a police station being interrogated by an officer who asked me ‘Are you a thief?’ I replied ‘no’. So he told me ‘I won’t release you till a member of your family comes and gets you’. I spent there so many days I can’t count them all. One day, I found myself freed and my mother was standing there before my eyes,” Fathi said with tears rolling down his cheeks.
Abul-Hassan Abdel-Tawab, a 24-year-old living in Benha, has gone missing since 15 March 2011. Abdel-Tawab was working in his juice shop in Benha, in Qalioubiya governorate when he went missing. His brother narrates, “we searched everywhere for him and we checked the military jails. Till now, we don’t know where he is. Nobody helps and we filed a complaint to the Shura Council and the cabinet. We want someone to adopt the cause. We want the president and other government officials to feel for those missing and tell us whether they are dead or arrested. Is it too much to ask for?” Abdel-Tawab’s brother exclaimed.
Maged Osama, Arzak Ahmed, Al-Sayed Abdallah, Amr Abdel-Malak, Ibrahim Al-Sayed, Sayed Mustafa, Mustafa Magd, Al-Sayed Arabi, Ahmed Hussein, Magd Diaa, Magd Al-Shafei, Ibrahim Essam Ibrahim are some of those missing. The list isn’t getting any shorter.