ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
When a police officer shot and killed a young truck driver in Egypt, it sparked protests. That's unusual because Egypt has effectively banned all forms of dissent. But this time, the government didn't stop the demonstrations. Instead, officials are trying to respond to the public's anger. NPR's Leila Fadel has the story, starting with the victim's father.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: In central Cairo, Ali Sayed Ismail Hussein sits on a wooden chair in the street in front of his dead son's apartment building. The Quran plays in the background as neighbors and friends pass by to pay condolences.
ALI SAYED ISMAIL HUSSEIN: (Through interpreter) The blood of my son, Mohammed Darbaka, is on the neck of the president of the republic. I'm asking for the rights of my son from the president. My demand is justice for my son.
FADEL: The shooting took place February 18. The policeman had hired Mohammed Darbaka to drive him around as he moved boxes of shoes and other goods. The father says witnesses told him his son and the policeman argued over payment and then the cop shot the young man in the head. His father says the cop should be executed for killing his son for no reason - in the middle of the street - in his own neighborhood. And the killing of his son, known as Darbaka, has become famous.
HUSSEIN: (Through interpreter) In Cairo, in Arab countries and in Europe, everyone knows the name Darbaka.
FADEL: There have been a lot of people killed in Egypt by police in the last few years, but this killing comes as discontent grows over police brutality and judicial misconduct. Egyptians were already shocked by the torture and killing of a young Italian Ph.D. student. Many blame security forces though Egypt denies their involvement. It also follows a surge of disappearances blamed on security forces. And most recently, a 4-year-old child was sentenced to life in prison. The government said it was an accident. The driver's case seems to have rattled the government.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).
FADEL: In this protest posted online, demonstrators chant - oh, you dirty government, you sons of dirty people and call the police thugs. On state TV, Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar met with the father of the driver, Mohammed Darbaka, in what appeared to be an attempt to quell public discontent.
MAGDY ABDEL GHAFFAR: (Foreign language spoken).
FADEL: He grips Hussein's shoulders and says he is our son, and we will bring justice. That is on us. Originally, the ministry said the policeman pulled his gun out to stop a fight and accidentally fired. But now the policeman is behind bars is standing trial.
Still, the case is a rallying cry. Men are getting the phrase we are all Darbaka shaved into their hairlines at barbershops, and the government is doing damage control. The prime minister, Sherif Ismail, recently gave a press conference.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
SHERIF ISMAIL: (Through interpreter) We should not hold the entire police authority accountable for misdeeds of a few individuals.
FADEL: And he promised reforms in how police are trained.
HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken).
FADEL: Back in Darbaka's neighborhood, Darbaka's father, Ali Hussein, looks at a picture of his son hanging on the wall nearby.
HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken).
FADEL: "He was 24 and engaged to be married." His father says he was loved by all. "The government," Hussein says, "has promised to do the right thing." He will wait and see. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.