Blogger′s death set off protests against Egyptian repression | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 20.06.2011
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Environment

Blogger's death set off protests against Egyptian repression

The Facebook group "We are all Khaled Said" was one of the driving forces behind mobilizing protesters in Egypt. Deutsche Welle honored the group's organizers and members in its international Weblog award the BOBs.

An Egyptian protester holding a poster of Said

Said became a symbol of the Egyptian uprising

As he did so often, Khaled Said was sitting in an Egyptian Internet cafe. But on this day in June 2010, a pair of men entered the room and asked him for his ID. The men were secret police, and the 28-year-old blogger and computer specialist wouldn't meet their demands.

Witnesses later said the men took him out of the cafe and slammed his head against walls before taking him, unconscious, to a police station.

By the time he arrived, all that could be said with certainty was that Said was dead.

To avoid being held responsible for their crimes, the police, according to Egyptian media reports, stuffed hash into his mouth in an effort to make Said look like a drug dealer. The police also accused Said of theft, dodging mandatory military service and sexual assault. Said's abused body was then dumped in front of the cafe from which he'd been dragged.

Mother of a martyr

It was a day Said's mother, Leila Marzouk, will never forget. In addition to the sorrow of losing her son, she and her family watched officials drag their names though the mud. Her accusers knew they had to tarnish Said's reputation - and his family's.

Zahraa Said and her mother Leila Marzouk

Said's sister and mother said he would have wanted to help organize protests had he lived

"My husband died when Khaled was six years old," Marzouk told Deutsche Welle. "I had to raise Khaled the best I could, and I always did what was right and good. Then they come and say, 'You failed at raising your child.'"

Said died on June 6, 2010, more than six months before former president Hosni Mubarak's regime fell. But Said is still regarded as a martyr and symbol of the Egyptian revolution. But it wasn't only his death that led to indignation. Shortly after his death, reports surfaced that gave his murder a political dimension: the blogger published hidden camera footage documenting police corruption.

The alleged reason he was taken out of the cafe and killed quickly spread across the Internet. Photos of a young man next to his disfigured corpse became a symbol of the Mubarak regime's repression. In Alexandria, where Said was born, demonstrations began just days after his death.

Online organization

Though she said she remains proud of her son, Marzouk added that it was a strange situation.

An Egyptian protester in front of a banner showing pictures of Said alive and his corpse

Photos of Khaled, alive and dead, were common in Egyptian protests

"A lot of young people took to the streets chanting 'down with Mubarak, down with [interior minister] Habib Al-Adli,'" she said. "I asked the people, 'What does this have to do with my son's death?' and they told me, 'We're making sure for you that Khaled gets his rights.'"

Wael Ghonim, the Internet giant Google's head of marketing for the Middle East, was one of Said's friends and a leading Internet activist. Using a pseudonym, he and some friends started a Facebook group and, in honor of Said, gave it a name that summed up many young Egyptian's feelings: "We are all Khaled Said."

Hundreds of thousands of people joined the group, and over a period of months it grew to become one of the Egyptian opposition's most important platforms to mobilize people to take action aimed at removing the government.

The group documented human rights abuses committed by state authorities, helping activists exchange information and plan demonstrations after the Tunisian uprising was successful in forcing former president Ben Ali to flee the country in January 2011.

Democracy's price

Today, the Facebook group's original Arabic version has nearly 1.5 million members and remains a popular spot to debate the issues coming up as Egypt works to make the difficult transition toward creating a true civil society. An English Facebook group with more than 100,000 members also supports uprisings in other Arab countries, including Syria and Libya.

Screenshot of the Arabic Facebook group 'We are all Khaled Said'

The Facebook group was an important resource for informing and organizing protesters

"We are all Khaled Said" won the 2011 Deutsche Welle International Blog (The BOBS) award in the Best Social Activism Campaign category.

The competition's jury members said the group and its members had played an important role in achieving political change in Egypt.

Khaled Said's sister Zahraa said she is proud that the group named in honor of her brother won the award.

"I think Khaled would have liked to have been among the founders of such a Facebook group," she said. "And he certainly would have found someone else to dedicate it to. He was someone who liked things like that. That's just the way he was."

Author: Salah Sharara / sms

Editor: Stuart Tiffen

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