The tragedy of what happened to Khaled Said reaches far beyond one man and a family dealing with their loss. After pictures of his tortured face and body were leaked onto the Internet, Khaled Said came to represent all Egyptians who had suffered police brutality. His face became a symbol of protest against the impunity and unchecked power of the Egyptian police force, which embodied all that was wrong with the regime of then-President Hosni Mubarak. The Facebook page was perhaps the most influential online resource for arranging the January 2011 demonstrations, as the page administrator published calls to protest. Khaled Said was one young man, but for the millions who protested in 2011, he could have been any one of them.
The tougher prison sentence handed down to Suleiman and Salah is surprising because it comes at a time when the gains of the January revolution are severely threatened. Despite Mubarak’s resignation more than three years ago, almost all the pillars and institutions of his governance remain in place. The police force has seen a resurgence of its heavy-handedness since last summer.
Despite numerous accusations of police abuse, legal proceedings against officers accused of maltreatment and of killing demonstrators have largely been shelved. Most of those prosecuted have been acquitted, with few new cases filed while the brutality continues. On November 28 last year, prominent political activist Alaa Abdul Fattah was taken from his home in the middle of the night by police officers. He and his wife were violently assaulted by the officers after Fattah asked to see an arrest warrant. He remains in prison today. In October, journalist Aslam Fathi was tortured all night at a police station and he is currently filing a law suit against the police despite the reprisal it may invite against himself or his family.
There are countless other cases of police brutality and unchecked power reminiscent of the Mubarak days. Once again, the police are not being held accountable. Even the leaders of the April 6 movement, which was a mainstay of the 2011 revolution, have been locked up. Perhaps most worryingly, there has been little or no outcry by the greater Egyptian populace over this return of police violence because it is all being conducted in the name of “stability,” a word on the lips of the majority of Egyptians who have seen their country descend into chaos while the economy continues to crumble.
This is all in stark contrast to the early days of 2011, when Egyptians cast away their fear of the police and routed them on January 28, 2011, now known as the “Day of Rage,” which saw the military deployed across the country after the police had been forced from the streets by protestors.
Those days feel very far away now. The sentencing of Khalid Said’s killers is a small victory, but one that exists in isolation, because while the case is now closed, all that his defenders stood against appears to be back in full swing.
Three years ago, Egyptians identified with the “We are all Khaled Said” slogan because it was painfully clear how the police operated on a currency of fear and intimidation. Today, the police are again able to operate with impunity. The majority of Egyptians, who want the Muslim Brotherhood and the revolutionaries silenced in the name of national security, do not seem to mind how the police act: they associate those actions with order and stability. That support from the population will only last so long, because police brutality rarely operates within a vacuum and, just like Said’s murder, it only takes one case to turn a population against a shared oppressor.
Khaled Said is gone, but not forgotten. While his death ignited the rage so many Egyptians felt toward the police, his case is less about the jailing of two men, and more about how the institution these men represent still acts beyond the bounds of the law.
All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to The Majalla magazine or Asharq Al-Awsat Newspaper