Death of woman journalist Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz brings Egypt division under the microscope

Lys Anzia – WNN Features

Cairo womena protester stands before a military bulldozer
An Egyptian woman tries to stop a military bulldozer from going forward during clashes that broke out as Egyptian security forces move in to disperse supporters of Egypt’s deposed president Mohamed Morsi. In a protest camp near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in eastern Cairo on Wednesday August 14, 2013, the operation began early in the day, shortly after dawn, when security forces surrounded the sprawling camp in east Cairo, as well as a similar camp at Al-Nahda square, in the centre of Cairo. Launching what protesters convey has been ‘a long-threatened crackdown’ against pro-Morsi factions has left what the government officials now reports are 278 dead. This includes slain woman journalist from Dubai, Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, as well as other members of the press. But it is possible; there could be more unreported casualties. Image: Mohammed Abdel Monheim/AFP

(WNN) Cairo, EGYPT, NORTHERN AFRICA: Following an extreme violent use of force against pro-Morsi protesters on the streets of the Nasr City district of Cairo under what the United Nations describes as “sit-ins and demonstrations,” the protest camps outside the Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque on Wednesday have been the site of injury and death as Cairo police and security forces moved in with tear gas and bullets.

Current numbers of deaths and injuries are being reported differently by Egypt’s interim government and it’s current rivals the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salifist Nour Party, with official reported numbers of deaths ranging from 278 to over 500 deaths comparatively.

The streets of Nasr are now empty under an emergency curfew as Cairo sleeps. But the mother of one of those killed during today’s violence is not sleeping. She is grieving after she placed the last text messages she received, from her 26-year-old journalist daughter Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, on her Facebook page.

Habiba, a Dubai-based journalist with relatives in Egypt, was on-the-ground in Nasr today as attacks against protesters intensified in Cairo. Whether she was there personally to get a news story or in the city to visit relatives while she was away from work on leave, as her employers at the XPRESS a publication of Gulf News have conveyed,  is undetermined. Text messages between Habiba and her mother show Habiba’s clear engagement in the events as she became part of the events she was witnessing in Cairo.

“…Honorable people and a day of anger near!” said Habiba in one of the last tweets she made on Twitter on Monday August 12, on day before the violent outbreak.

Dying from what pro-Morsi protesters have described as ‘a sniper’s bullet’, Habiba is only one of the casualties who are now unable to tell their own story. Instead of writing the story as a journalist Habiba has now become the story. Only words on Twitter and Facebook are left to tell us more about what we don’t know of her thoughts and her actions during today’s violence.

But she wasn’t the only journalist killed today in what many inside and outside Egypt see as a useless and destructive stand-off for those seeking political power in Egypt. 61-year-old cameraman and journalist Mick Deane of the British news publication Sky News also died today from injuries he received as Cairo security forces began shooting.

Egypt-based reporter Ahmed Abdel Gawad was also a casualty in the violence. Ahmed worked as a staff journalist for the state-run newspaper Al Akhbar and was covering the protesters close to the Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque, in an area that is guessed to be close to the location where Habiba also died.

“Field security is at every gate now. I am in the media centre,” Habiba outlined in a text message to her mother Sabreen Mangoud at 6:19am on Wednesday August 14. “It isn’t far at all in fact and the door is big and it can be broken through easily,” she continued.

“Are there too many police and army troops?” asked Habiba’s mother in one of a series of text messages.

“Yes, but their movements could also be a ‘nerve war’ tactic,” answered Habiba in a text back to her mother.

“How will you get to the monument [the Square]?” asked her mother in return.

“I will walk like everybody else, or run. It depends on the situation,” outlined Habiba.

“God help us,” responded her mother.

More than 6 weeks under the umbrella of widespread unrest since the incarceration, and subsequent disappearance, of former President Mohamed Morsi, many citizens living inside and outside of Egypt have called the change in government policy ‘a military coup’. But the desire for peace in the region has not subsided. On the contrary, those who wish for a ‘new Egypt’ that can jump into democracy past the centuries-old history of conflict are building a reserve of hope for a new direction to come to the surface of Egypt’s crippled democratic efforts. Witnessing increasing clashes, as ‘the human cost’ of the crisis continues, brings the importance of the issue of peace and tolerance to the surface, outlines CNN news correspondent and Middle East commentator Mona Eltahawy.

Pro-Morsi women gather stones for throwing
Female supporters of Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi gather stones during clashes with police in Cairo on August 14, 2013, as security forces backed by bulldozers move in, along with tear gas as well as batons and bullets on the Rabaa al-Adawiya camp in east Cairo. Image: Mosaab El-Shamy/AFP

“”I want to emphasize one thing, and this is really important. We have to stop the bloodshed,” said Eltahawy in a one-on-one phone interview today with Piers Morgan on CNN TV. “The revolution was not launched in the name of an Islamic State, or a military state. Our revolution was launched in the name of freedom and social dignity and social justice,” continued Eltahawy.  “And we need wise heads to rise above this horrendous day and say ‘let’s sit down and talk and stop shooting at each other, stop killing each other and stop burning churches’, because Egypt is much bigger than all of this.”

As the weakness of military rule becomes obvious to those who are human rights defenders in Egypt and beyond, listening to the needs of the people of Egypt remains clear. It may be the only way out of the pit of misunderstanding and intolerance that continues to haunt Egypt today.

“The Egyptian militaries will not be the custodians of democracy,” said Rula Jebreal contributor for U.S. based TV news network MSNBC in early August this year.

Following Wednesday’s violence Egypt’s government has now called for a formal month-long State curfew under an announced ‘State of Emergency’ after the today’s recent violence in Cairo. The announcement was made as members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military-backed interim government continue to spar moving closer to the increasing edge of civil war.

“Just days ago, the Secretary-General renewed his call for all sides in Egypt to reconsider their actions in light of new political realities and the imperative to prevent further loss of life,”  said a spokesperson for Office of the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon in a formal statement made from the UN on the crisis today. “The Secretary-General regrets that Egyptian authorities chose instead to use force to respond to the ongoing demonstrations. He conveys his condolences to the families of those killed and his wishes for a full and speedy recovery to those injured,” continued the message.

Also among the dead in Cairo during the violence is Asma Beltagy, daughter of prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammed El-Beltagy.

“Rise & rise again until lambs become lions,” says the Twitter profile for the now gone young  journalist Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz.

It outlines the hope of young activists who place themselves as journalists in the middle of what has become a deadly public show-of-force by Egypt’s security forces.

“Peace has to be possible, we can not afford to think otherwise. even as the crisis and violence reach unprecedented peaks, the call for peace, no matter how unpopular it may be, must be raised because the alternative is becoming catastrophic,” says WNN – Women News Network’s correspondent from Cairo Manar Ammar, who is currently living in the U.S. “Combating violence with violence, not only is it very dangerous, but also very shortsighted. The goal of the 2011 revolution, and the Arab spring as a whole, has always been social welfare and justice. Violence and welfare do not coexist. I also see this as a result of women’s weak representation in the political scene, the less women are involved in the political process and decision making, the less peace in Egypt has a chance,” she continued.

Casualties in the violence today were not confined only to pro-Morsi protesters, as well as members of the news media. Egypt’s government reported that 43 members of Cairo’s security forces have died from injuries they suffered during the protests. While the exact number of those who have been injured in today’s violence is hard to access, Reuters news has set the number to 1,400 or more.

In spite of this the hope that has been part of the Egypt’s journey toward democracy continues among those who have a vision for a better future in the region.

“I imagine a bleak future [in Egypt] if an effective reconciliation initiative is not [put] in place. Victims fell on both sides, and hundreds of Egyptian homes are in mourning, and the circular of violence is expanding,” continued WNN journalist Manar Ammar. “People are anxious and unhappy and for a good reason. the possibility for peace is always there, but it needs both sides to be willing to sit together at a table and talk.”

“I refuse to believe that the revolution is dead,” added Mona Eltahawy in her CNN interview with Piers Morgan. “For more than 60 years now we’ve been fighting to break a very dangerous paradigm. We’ve been told as Egyptians, ‘You must choose between military rule or the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt is much bigger than both of those,” added Eltahawy.


In a video released before the deadly violence in Cairo on Wednesday, August 14, 2013, Pro-Morsi supporters brace for crackdown, the Egyptian government is preparing to end the two largest sit-ins by supporters of deposed president, Mohamed Morsi.Vendors at the main camp in Nasr City, a suburb in the Egyptian capital, have sold hundreds of gas masks and Waist-high barriers have been made to obstruct armored vehicles. Al Jazeera news correspondent Bernard Smith reports from Cairo.


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Lys Anzia is a human rights journalist who’s special focus covers social justice, world development and global women. Anzia is also the founder and executive editor for WNN – Women News Network. In addition to WNN, her work can be found in Vital Voices, Truthout, Alertnet, UNESCO, The Guardian News, UN Women and Thomson Reuters Foundation, among many others.


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