At least 846 Egyptians were killed and 6464 injured in Egypt’s recent uprising to put an end former President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years rule. However, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is drafting its own controversial definition of martyrdom, which will determine who gets compensation from the state. Families of prisoners, alleged thugs and those not killed between 25 January and 24 March are excluded. Similar exclusions will apply when awarding compensation to the injured.
“Not only God decides who's a martyr. The state must also make considerations,” said General Mohsen al-Fangary, deputy defense minister and member of SCAF, at a meeting with families of martyrs and those injured from around Egypt’s governorates. Fangary held the meeting on Wednesday to hear their demands. Immediate financial support will be delivered to everyone who registered – provided they are not policemen and can prove their injuries or the killing of relatives – but the longer-term benefits will depend on the verification process.
“We decided to issue the money for everyone not to be unfair to those true revolutionaries who deserve the support,” said Pansee Esmat, executive manager of the Fund for Welfare of Injured and Martyrs’ Families, an organization in charge of disbursing the funds. It is headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.
“We thought we'll give the money to families even if their son is a thug, hoping this could improve their living conditions.”
With regards to the issuing longer-term benefits, the military is currently examining individual cases to identify whether each person killed or injured in the revolution has a criminal history, according to Esmat.
According to Fangary, “The investigation will include a background check, when, where and how the person was when he died, and if he committed previous crimes.”
“If someone has a history of drug and alcohol abuse or rape, there’s no way he participated in peaceful protests demanding freedom.”
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of SCAF and minister of defense, pledged a total of LE100 million in financial support for families of those slain during the uprising. LE30,000 will go to the family of each martyr and LE15,000 to those whose injuries left them with severe disabilities. Those left with lesser disabilities will receive LE5000. In additional to these benefits, a martyr's family will receive a monthly pension of LE1725 until the last immediate member of that family dies.
The announcement came after families of martyrs held a three-week-long sit-in in Cairo’s Tahrir Square demanding retribution from the police officers implicated in the death of their relatives.
“Prisoners who died inside prison didn’t die in a revolution; they just died during the events of the revolution. He’s a convict doing his sentence apart from the revolution,” Khaled Nasr, an army colonel, said during the meeting.
Mohamed Abdel Rehim, whose son was shot inside Abu Zaabal prison in Cairo, was incensed by the idea that the military council's specifications exclude his son. “Why are you hurting us with your words now? My son was killed illegally at the hands of a police officer who was trying to create chaos inside the prison and in the country to quell protests. How come he is not a martyr?” He said.
Osama Mahmoud, 36, an ex-political prisoner who was injured with a bullet to his arm during protests in Aswan, said: “Prisoners are also citizens who have rights. They were killed while in custody of the government, so they have to be considered martyrs by the state and receive financial support, just like those killed in the protests.”
A complicating factor is that the distinction between what went on in prisons during the revolution was linked to the wider context of political turmoil. According to a report released by Amnesty International released in May, thousands of prisoners held at Abu Zaabal were set free by Bedouin gunmen who attacked the prison on 28 January, in an operation that lasted almost five hours. On that day, police stations across the country were attacked as protesters beat back the security forces that had been trying to suppress them.
Other reports indicate the prisoners were deliberately freed by the regime in order to persuade average Egyptians that the protests went against their interests of preserving law and order. Accurate statistics are impossible to obtain, but 28 January is considered the most violent day of the revolution.
Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy said in a TV interview in May that those who died in the protests are martyrs while those died in front of police stations are thugs who were trying to break in.
But in Mahmoud's view, “police stations had to be burned because they were house of all kinds of oppression and torture which was why the revolution erupted in the first place."
Abdel Rehim said that the attorney general has not yet launched an investigation into what happened inside the prison, though Abdel Rehim filed a lawsuit months ago.
The fund has so far issued checks for more than 500 martyrs’ families and 1100 injured. While even conservative estimates put the number of martyrs at 846 (local human rights groups say the number is higher), only 516 have registered for the fund.
Esmat attributes the discrepancy to rumors and suspicions about the fund among martyrs’ families.
Meanwhile, some families gathered outside the meeting after they were denied entry. They were told that only representatives were allowed to attend.
“They don’t want to let us inside because they know we are against the way they’re managing this fund and that these representatives don’t actually represent us; we didn’t elect them,” said Ashraf Hafez, 38, who took a bullet to his leg on 28 January in Tahrir Square.
Hafez complained that although he submitted all the required documents and medical reports before the deadline, he didn’t receive his check.
“Every time I come here they tell me they have my name on the system but there’s no check and no one knows the reason,” Hafez said.
Samira Ismail, mother of 18-years-old Raafat, whose esophagus was cut by a rubber bullet on 28 January had the same problem.
“I spent lots of money on his treatment and I’ve been coming here for the last 10 days in vain,” said Ismail.
Other people complained of red tape to get their papers approved.
“I had to get medical reports from three hospitals, then they asked me to go to the social solidarity office and at the end, I submitted everything a month before the deadline, but they told me ‘leave your papers and we’ll deal with them’ every time I went,” said Hany Soliman, 34, who has been living with three pellets in his head. “[Then] they told me that I missed the deadline.”