The death of 54-year-old Magdy Makeen who was tortured and killed in the police station in the Cairo district of al-Ameeriya has sent shock and anger waves through Egypt.
Makeen, a Copt, earned his living selling fish on his horse cart. His cousin, Yusri Attiya, told Watani’s Rehab Gamal that the family was informed of his death by Zaitoun Hospital on Monday 14 November at 8am. “We rushed to the hospital where we found his body covered with a sheet and kept under strict security. They got a coffin from a nearby mosque and put the body inside and moved him to the morgue.”
Mr Attiya said that once the body was uncovered at the morgue, it was very obvious Makeen had been brutally tortured before he died. His body was full of bruises. When Watani asked Mr Attiya how the family was able to photograph Makeen’s body, he replied that a large number of family members had gone together to the morgue. They were too many for the officials there to be able to stop them from photographing the body on their cell phones. The large number of family members is no surprise; it is customary for Egyptians, especially those whose roots go back to Upper Egypt or rural areas in general, to quickly gather to support the extended family in cases of hardship.
Family version, police version
The family got to know the details from two men who had been with Makeen the day before. They said they were with Makeen as he drove his horse cart. He accidentally hit a police car that was passing by. The police officer in the car, Captain Karim Magdy, shouted obscenities at Makeen who retaliated by shouting back insults. The verbal fight escalated, Makeen drove away to escape the police, but they caught him and took him and the two other men who were with him to the police station of al-Ameeriya.
“How did you know these details,” Watani asked Mr Attiya, “if the two men are still detained by the police? Were you allowed to see them?” Mr Attiya said they got their information through the lawyer who also said the two men had been cruelly abused by the police. Makeen died after two hours of brutal torture, they said.
The police story goes that the three men on the horse cart were selling drugs and the police was chasing them. The police car hit the horse cart during the chase and Makeen lost his life. The police said they found 2000 tablets of narcotics in the cart. Watani asked Mr Attiya how could he be so sure that this was not true? “Makeen was a very poor man,” Mr Attiya said. “Could a drug dealer be so poor? He always enjoyed a good reputation among his neighbours and all who knew him. But all this is beside the point; if Makeen was a drug dealer he should have been prosecuted according to the law, not tortured to death.”
“Justice must be served”
Mr Attiya cast strong doubts on the police version of the incident. “Had there really been a collision that killed Makeen as the police said, would the cart have remained intact? We went to feed the horse where the police kept him and found him safe and sound and the cart intact.”
Mr Attiya insisted the family did not wish to turn the incident into a tool which the media would use for sensationalism or political manipulation, and this is why they had not been talking to the media. “But we insist that justice should be served,” he said. “The police officer involved in the crime has already been suspended, and the prosecution has demanded a speedy after-death report from the Forensic Medicine Authority. We are comfortable with that.”
During the questioning by the prosecution, Makeen’s nephew Mina Boulos was asked why the family members had photographed the body and posted the images online. “We hoped to capture the attention of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi,” Boulos said. “We were afraid we would not be able to get justice without his intervention.”
Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar has suspended Captain Karim Magdy pending investigation in the case. The public attorney has ordered investigation of footage captured by the CCTV cameras at the police station.
Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya, visited the family to offer condolences. He comforted them, but agreed that justice should be served.
The after-death report is not out yet.
The Coptic Orthodox Church and the Egypt Council of Churches issued a statement that they would not comment on the incident.
Despite the fact that Makeen’s family maintained a low profile in an attempt to ensure that the incident would not be exploited to stoke sectarian grudges or be politically manipulated, the story got into the media and was given extensive coverage and analysis. Not a few media outlets did just what the family had wished to avoid; TV talk shows depicted the incident in a sectarian light, even casting doubts on the authenticity of the images posted by the family on social media and on the intentions of the family in doing so. TV host Wael al-Ibrashi of al-Ashira Masa’an presented journalist Gamal Assaad who insisted that the Church, in delegating Anba Macarius to visit the family, had cast the incident as a crime committed against a Copt not merely against an Egyptian citizen. In vain did the other guests explain that it was a time-honoured Coptic tradition to hold prayers on the third day of a death at the home of the deceased, so it was no surprise that a cleric should visit the family to officiate. “Had Makeen been Muslim,” Mr Assaad asked, “would the Imam of al-Azhar have sent a cleric to visit the family?” to which one of Mr Ibrashi’s guests, lawyer Amir Nassif, replied: “Do Muslims hold Third Day prayers? Anyway, al-Azhar did send a representative to offer the family condolence.” He insisted that Makeen was an Egyptian first and foremost and that as such, and regardless of what religion he belonged to, he should be accorded justice.
Makeen’s widow and three children—two men and a woman aged 28, 25, and 20, totally avoided the media.
23 November 2016