Owais al-Rawi was shot in the head as he confronted a police officer who slapped his father during a home raid
The Egyptian city of Luxor has turned into a militarized area, with heavily armored police and special forces troops deployed in anticipation of angry demonstrations against the killing of a man by a police officer.
The incident occurred less than a month after police officers in the Giza governorate were accused of torturing to death Islam al-Ostraly, a 26-year-old bird-shop owner, after he refused to pay a bribe.
On 30 September, Owais al-Rawi got into an argument with a police officer who had slapped his father during a raid on their home.
As the verbal argument escalated, the officer shot the 38-year-old four times – once in the face – killing the father of two, according to Middle East Eye
Awad al-Rawi, one of Owais’ cousins, said that on the night in question, security forces stormed into the family house in al-Awamiya, some 30 minutes away from the ancient Luxor Temple, to arrest a family member suspected of having taken part in small-scale nationwide protests last week.
“Once they did not find the wanted person, they decided to arrest Owais’ younger brother. When their father intervened, the officer slapped him across the face in front of everybody,” said Awad, who witnessed the incident firsthand.
“We are Upper Nile Egyptians. We are proud people and our elders have to be respected. Owais, God bless his soul, could not see his father humiliated,” he said, adding that his cousin wanted to confront the officer, which led to an argument.
“The officer then pulled out his side arm and emptied four rounds in Owais, one of which hit his face.”
The officer was suspended from work and will be interrogated, one source in the prosecution office told MEE on condition of anonymity.
The source anticipated that the investigation was launched in a move to “contain the anger of the locals”.
Like many in the Luxor region, Owais worked several seasonal jobs, including driving a tuktuk, working in construction, farming, and other posts related to tourism. Prior to his death, he was an assistant nurse at Luxor International Hospital.
“All Owais wanted was to hold the officer who slapped his father accountable. None of us was armed, and none of us deal in drugs,” Samir, another relative, said.
That same night, anger over Owais’ killing swelled in the village, which witnessed a similar incident in 2016 when a man was kidnapped by the police and tortured to death.
A spontaneous mass funeral took place as Owais’ body was carried to the family’s burial site. Mourners started chanting against the police and the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, including slogans such as “Sisi is the enemy of God” and “retribution by bullets”.
Riot police soon moved in to disperse the gathering and fired warning shots as well as teargas, family and friends told MEE, adding that dozens were detained and sent to the state security building in Luxor.
“Funerals and death in upper Egypt are sacred,” said Mohamed Abdullah, a merchant in Awamiya who participated in the funeral. “Even when two families are in a vendetta, funerals are still a red line that cannot be crossed.”
Clashes broke out between angry mourners who, in the face of teargas, retaliated with rocks. In the chaos that ensued, civilians kidnapped and beat a police officer.
However, after hours of negotiations between a higher ranking official and the elders of the al-Rawi tribe, the officer was released, Abdullah and two other sources told MEE.
The Ministry of Interior, which until now has not addressed or publicly acknowledged Owais’ killing, denied on the same day of the clashes that a police officer was kidnapped in Luxor, without giving any details.
Owais’ father, Abdel-Hamid al-Rawi, told MEE that his son’s death pained him but that he died defending his principles.
“My heart is aching. I wish I took the bullet,” he said.
“Nevertheless he died a man defending the honor of his family. We will not accept any condolences until the person who did this is held accountable.”
The culture of vendetta and traditional courts are ever present in upper Egypt, where the judiciary and state control are largely focused on the enforcement of the law and arrests, allowing civilians to resort to an ancient, informal justice system to settle disputes among themselves.
Since the killing, police in plain clothes have been seen surrounding the street of the Rawi residence, while military police cars roam the entrances and exits of the area in order to prevent any mass gatherings.
Hundreds have been arrested in Egypt since widespread anti-Sisi protests broke out on 20 September in response to a call by exiled whistleblower Mohamed Ali.
Awamiya was no exception, as dozens took to the street to protest against a government demolition campaign that has reportedly affected hundreds of thousands of low-income Egyptians facing either eviction or heavy fines on their unlicensed residential buildings.
On Friday, the elders and families of the Rawi tribe held a funeral prayer in al-Atiq Mosque in Luxor.
After the prayers, a newly created tribal council released a statement saying it would consider all those who “work with or for the police” as “criminals and terrorists”.
The statement warned locals against collaborating or working as spies for the police apparatus.
The council also said that suspected people will undergo “fair customary trials held by the best of our clerics and al-Azhar scholars”.
Luxor is the birthplace of the Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyib, the grand mufti of al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, and on that account the influence of the prominent Islamic institution is respected in the governorate.
Many in the community expect Tayyib to be a key figure if any negotiations take place between police and locals.
“We will not stand with our hands tied while we see our blood being spilled and our honor humiliated,” the tribal council statement, which was widely circulated among the residents of Luxor, read.
The council also called for self-administration, under the control of the state, through the election of “municipalities that would help civilians solve their problems” and the formation of “groups to preserve justice and order until the corrupt and murderous institutions are reformed”.
After the news of Owais’ death was reported on social media, several users compared his killing to that of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by police earlier this year in the United States, whose death led to mass demonstrations.
For Egyptians, Owais’ death makes him yet another victim of police brutality in the country.
Several human rights organizations have reported that the torture and ill treatment of detainees and civilians, especially from working-class areas, is systematic in Egypt.
Following protests calling for Sisi to step down in the last two weeks, at least 496 people have been detained and numerous home raids have been conducted, especially in villages and working class areas away from central Cairo and Giza, Amnesty International said on Friday.
“The fact that these protesters took to the streets while knowing the very high risk to their lives and safety they were taking shows how desperate they were to demand their economic and social rights,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director.
“Videos showing policemen firing birdshot at fleeing people indicate a total disregard for international policing standards.”
Luther said the organization was concerned about the presence of armed forces deployed to police the protests, which puts civilian lives at risk.
‘We are all Owais Al-Rawi’
Social media users are comparing the shooting of Owais Al-Rawi by Egyptian police to the killing of George Floyd in the US.
Owais was shot in the head in his family home in Luxor, Upper Egypt, by policeman after he objected to them insulting and abusing his father and slapping him. Floyd, a black American, was killed after a policeman kneeled on his neck whilst his colleagues looked on, earlier this year.
Owais’ death has also drawn comparisons with Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring.
The killing of Owais has further galvanized protesters, who have been demonstrating in Egypt’s countryside and Upper Egypt for almost two weeks now against soaring living costs and widescale house demolitions.
The demonstrations have been labelled the ‘galabiya uprising’ in reference to the traditional dress typically worn in the countryside.
Social media users are posting under the Arabic hashtag, We are all Owais Al-Rawi, in reference to the We are all Khaled Saeed Facebook page, which was created to protest police torture and corruption and which went on to spark the 2011 revolution.
Khaled Saeed became an icon of victims of police brutality in 2010 after images of his battered corpse circulated on the internet.
Despite the fact that the 2011 revolutionaries asked for an end to police violence, it has got worse under the current regime.
Early in September protests broke out in Giza after a young man, Islam the Australian, died of suspected torture after objecting to a policeman insulting his mother.
Last Friday’s day of rage saw police kill 25-year-old Sami Wagdy Bashir in Al-Blida village in Giza Governorate with live ammunition.
Egyptians las Friday backed a call by whistleblower Mohamed Ali who asked them to take to the streets for the second Friday of rage, or for the Friday victory.