The Politics of Blood, the Sanctity of Death

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A group of protesters in green vests pushed young men away from sites of clashes ahead of the funeral. (Photo: Sarah Sirgany)

Cairo - The funeral of Gaber Salah, a 16-year old killed in Tahrir last week, brought much needed calm to central Cairo.

Groups in green vests held rock-yielding youth away from the clashes that began on November 19. The police, who kept popping up in different streets around Tahrir Square, expanding and extending the confrontation, also complied with the calls for a truce. “Death has its sanctity” was the underlying principle in Tahrir on Monday.

For an hour and half mourners refrained from political chants. But after the burial, they chanted "people want the fall of the regime" as soon as they turned back to return to Tahrir.

The streets were cleaned in preparation for the funeral procession. Water was swept and the remaining puddles were filled with sand. Human chains were formed around the sites of clashes. At the foot of the French school, in which the police was stationed and which had become the center of the initial confrontation, teenagers locked hands to prevent younger and older men from crossing to the other side of Mohamed Mahmoud Street.

It was calm, ready for a somber procession. For an hour and a half, thousands walked through Downtown to the burial grounds.

Salah, or Jika, was shot in clashes with the police in the buildup to the standoff between the Muslim Brotherhood president and the opposition. His funeral was like make-believe: everyone agreed to temporarily forget the political context for his death.

With Salah’s casket at the front of the procession, political chants were absent upon the request of his family. His uncle asked attendees to respect the funeral and put politics aside.

At the same time in the Delta town of Damanhour, 15-year-old Islam Fathy was also carried to his grave. He was killed in a confrontation between pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood groups.
Like the clashes were populated with kids, the funeral and the prayer featured participation of a large number of young teenagers. (Photo: Sarah Sirgany)Like the clashes were populated with kids, the funeral and the prayer featured participation of a large number of young teenagers. (Photo: Sarah Sirgany)

In the background, the ugly face of politics was present. Politicians on either side were busy claiming affinity to the young victims, as if they were trophies and bargaining chips. People who once dismissed all young protesters as thugs attacking the police were screaming in contrived mourning.

But on Monday afternoon, it still seemed that Egypt was learning a crucial lesson. Violence and blood equals loss and no gains.

But the politics that led to the death of two people on either side of the conflict is bound to push itself back onto the scene.

Following Salah’s burial and as soon as mourners turned to head back to Tahrir, the chants grew loud, echoing through the narrow streets. They chanted against President Mohamed Mursi, the MB and the Ministry of Interior. The sympathetic tone participants said they encountered in the street – certainly compared to the contempt elicited last year at a funeral for a victim of clashes with the military – was probably due to the political context. They were ready to accept opposition to the MB, but not the military last year.

The following day, when demonstrations were called against Mursi’s constitutional decree, it seemed that the calm may endure; that at least people have learnt the tough lesson of bloodshed. The political approach was calculated and cautious.
Men cleaned Mohamed Mahmoud Street to clear it for the funeral march. (Photo: Sarah Sirgany)Men cleaned Mohamed Mahmoud Street to clear it for the funeral march. (Photo: Sarah Sirgany)

The MB had canceled a Cairo demonstration to avoid clashes, but pro- and anti- marches went ahead as planned in other governorates. For most of the day, it seemed people on either side were intent on avoiding bloodshed.

By night fall, news of clashes trickled in with the numbers of the injured. There were no fatalities, but the conclusion was obvious: political gains will only be delivered on a bloodied path. Violence was unfortunately inevitable. The respect for human life was momentary and only ever manifests itself after a life has been lost.

As teargas canisters are fired and clashes continue across the country, it becomes apparent that death has its sanctity – not life.


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