Security forces continued to cordon off a village in Qena Governorate Tuesday, following the deaths of five people in the province's worst vendetta killings in months.
Eyewitnesses from the village said that the police are setting up barriers in the village of Higarat to separate the rival families involved, fearing they may try to get vengeance on one another.
The five killed were of the Rashiyda family, which resides in Higarat. They were reportedly shot by a farmer while driving along the Safaga-Qena Highway on Sunday.
During the funeral of Sunday, rumors spread that the dead bodies had been disfigured by the bullets. Later, residents of the village were saying that each body had been shot with more than 50 bullets.
On Monday, the state-owned news agency MENA quoted sources at the crime lab of the Interior Ministry as confirming that the bodies were badly disfigured.
The Rashiyda family refused to take condolences after the funeral, an indication that they are determined to take revenge.
MENA reported that investigation revealed that the shooter, Saeed Galal, an elderly man from the Saqao family reported to be in his 70s, believed members of the Rashiyda family were responsible for killing his son, who was shot weeks ago.
Galal suspected members of the Rashiyda family were responsible after receiving what he called a revelation while carrying his son’s body during his funeral. According to some residents of the village, Galal thought that when the funeral march stopped in front of the Rashiyda family’s home, it was a sign that they were responsible for his son's death. Among the older generation in Upper Egypt, it is widely believed that when funeral processions of those killed in a vendetta stop in front of a house, mourners interpret it as an indication that the guilty party is inside.
Another of Galal’s sons was slain in a vendetta killing nine years ago.
A source from the village, who requested not to be identified for his own safety, said both families agreed to travel to Ismailia after Galal's son was killed, where Bedouins were to carry out a mystical ritual to determine the guilt of the accused.
In the ritual, called “Besh’aa,” a heated knife is placed on the accused’s tongue. If the tongue is burnt or scarred, the person is considered guilty.
MENA quoted sources from Qena Security Directorate as saying that Galal was in a microbus with the victims as they headed to Ismailia.
Alaa Eissawy traveled with his brothers Ayman and Alaa, their uncle Khalil Eissawy and their cousin Abdel Khair Abdallah. They were accompanied by Galal and Mohamed Abdel Raheem, a member of a third family who was not involved and brought as a neutral party.
The MENA report said that when Galal asked the driver to pull over because he said he felt nauseous, another car suddenly appeared with gunmen. The men shot the members of the Rashiyda family, killing them all.
Abdel Raheem, from the third family, was badly injured.
Tribal feuds are common in Upper Egypt, especially in Qena, where family honor is considered at stake if violent acts are not answered. Qena in particular is infamous for the widespread vendetta killings that occur there.
Sociologists say that a flawed legal system and tribal-dominated culture encourage such practices. Judges have been accused of issuing lenient sentences against vendetta killers, which often don't exceed 15 years and are sometimes even less.
Nasser Obaid, a teacher from Higarat, told Egypt Independent that the whole village has been on a state of shock since the horrible incident.
“Everybody is staying in their homes now. People are really frightened and in wrath over this atrocity,” Obaid told Egypt Independent over the phone.
He added that police forces have set up cordons in the village since dawn Sunday and all members of the Saqao family have left the village, fearing revenge.
In 1961, 14.5 percent of all homicides were vendetta killings, according to a public security report issued by the Interior Ministry. This ratio has not declined significantly since then: in 1999 vendetta killings made up 10.5 percent of all homicides.
Though vendetta killings are common in Qena, the village of Higarat is exceptional for the number that occur there each year. In 2009 alone, police reported 200 overall murders and attempted murders.
The next year, the village witnessed one of the worst ever vendetta killings in Egypt, when gunmen exchanged live fire in a mourning tent, leaving seven dead.