Egypt's Polarization Descends Into Personal Relationships

Ahmed Assem has become the poster child of what Muslim Brotherhood leader's are calling a massacre — last Monday's assault by security forces on angry Islamist protesters. Assem was a photographer who filmed his own death. An army sniper shot him down. The killing has torn Assem's family apart. His brother is a police officer who blames the Brotherhood for the violence, but the family, like Egypt itself, is now deeply divided and unsure what is to come.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

We turn to Egypt in this part of the program where the public is sharply polarized 10 days after the ouster of the country's Islamist president. There are also big questions about the country's economic future. We'll get to that in a bit. First, the effect that Egypt's political strife is having on friendships and families. NPR's Leila Fadel met with one divided family in Cairo.

AMAL: (Foreign language spoken)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Amal(ph) weeps as chanted verses of the Quran play on a tape deck in her living room. My baby boy, she says, just 26 years old, he's gone, and she doesn't understand why.

AMAL: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Was he killed for filming the truth, she asks? Why?

AMAL: Who? Who?

FADEL: The many questions surrounding the death of her son, Ahmed Assem el-Senousy(ph), reflect the wider uncertainty in Egypt today. The facts of the story are as follows. Ahmed was a photographer for a newspaper that belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing. On the day of his death, he was participating in and taking pictures of a sit-in in support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in eastern Cairo.

His mother said Ahmed believed in the brotherhood's program. The event turned bloody. More than 50 Muslim Brotherhood supporters died that day in what the brotherhood calls a massacre committed by the police and the army. Ahmed was among the dead. What makes his story unique is that he apparently filmed his own death.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO FOOTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: This is reportedly the footage from Ahmed's video camera. We see a soldier taking multiple shots from a rooftop, then turns his rifle directly toward Ahmed's camera. Suddenly, the screen goes dark. His family says that the video proves that Ahmed was targeted for filming the bloody incident. Ahmed's father is Samir Assem(ph).

SAMIR ASSEM: The reaction of the military guard is very, very, very violent, unacceptable. The reaction is unacceptable.

FADEL: But there are many questions about what happened that day. The military and police deny any wrongdoing, saying they were attacked first. And then there are the conspiracy theories. Some say people dressed as soldiers killed the protesters in order to discredit the security services. Still, others claim Palestinian militants were somehow involved. The many rumors have deepened the despair of Ahmed's family. His sister Nevine(ph) shakes her head in grief.

NEVINE: We don't know who killed him. We want to know the truth.

FADEL: Ahmed's death has ripped open deep divisions within the family. Ahmed was pro-Morsi. The rest of his family is not. In the last days of his life, he and his brother Islam(ph) stopped speaking. Islam is a policeman.

ISLAM: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: I told him, as long as you have these thoughts about the brotherhood in your head, we can't talk. But really, he just wanted to show what he thought was the truth, Islam says. Ahmed's father was also arguing with his son in the final days of his life.

ASSEM: I always talked to him, please, Ahmed, be with them, but never have violence. Keep away from violence.

FADEL: The day before Ahmed's death, Nevine, his sister, called him. She had watched a video of a young man thrown off a building by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the coastal city of Alexandria.

NEVINE: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Ahmed, they will kill you, she says she told him. This was his answer.

NEVINE: This is my place. I will live here or die.

FADEL: I asked Nevine whom she blames.

NEVINE: The president.

FADEL: She refers to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Her brother Islam, the policeman, agrees.

ISLAM: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: The brotherhood trades in blood, he says. Who lives or dies doesn't matter to them as long as the Muslim Brotherhood survives. Ahmed's father says the brotherhood led Ahmed to his death.

ASSEM: What I wish? To eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood. Eradicate.

FADEL: But his mother quickly interjects, defending the Islamists, saying they wouldn't hurt one of their own.

AMAL: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: As the evening wanes, the talk of politics dies down, and the family is left with only their loss. Ahmed's mother pulls pictures from her purse: Ahmed as a baby, as a young boy, as a teenager and as a man.

AMAL: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: See how beautiful he was, she tells me?

AMAL: And I love him very much, very, very much. (Foreign language spoken) he like me very much. (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: My heart hurts for my son, she cries. He is a martyr, and one day I will be in heaven with him. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.