Analysis |

A Brutal Murder in Egypt Highlights a Danger to Women

Despite Sissi's promises of justice for a university student slain by the man she rejected, the Egyptian leader has a long road ahead of him if he truly wants to uproot attacks on women

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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The parents and a family member of murdered university of Mansoura student Naira Ashraf, at a trial session of the presumed murderer Mohamed Adel, in Egypt on Sunday.
The parents and a family member of murdered university of Mansoura student Naira Ashraf, at a trial session of the presumed murderer Mohamed Adel, in Egypt on Sunday.Credit: KHALED DESOUKI - AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“On June 1, I bought a used, serrated knife. I was carrying it when I went by bus to the university. I saw her sitting on the bus with her friend and I said to myself, ‘Look, I have an opportunity to finish her off.’

“When she got off, she was a bit ahead of me. I took out my knife and grabbed her. People tried to get me away from her, but I waved the knife and warned them not to get near me. I stabbed her, and only after I finished did some people catch me and get me away from her. That’s everything that happened on June 20.”

The above is what Mohamed Adel, a 21-year-old student at Mansoura University in Egypt, told investigators after murdering the woman he loved, Naira Ashraf. She was the same age as him and studied at the same university.

Adel met Naira two years ago and fell in love with her. But Naira, he said, didn’t return his affection.

“She told me she’d never fall in love with me and she didn’t want any connection to me. ‘My dreams aren’t of you,’ she told me. But I didn’t give up. I wanted to marry her, and I even went to her parents to ask for her hand. They refused because I’m still a student.”

Adel was offended to the depths of his soul. On the advice of his friends, he began stalking her wherever she went and sending her threatening emails, “so she’d be afraid and end up hooking up with me.” But it didn’t help.

“She stuck to her position ... I was afraid she’d fall in love with someone else and I decided to kill her. I even thought about keeping her head for myself, because I loved her eyes ... I want you to execute me, even without a trial. And if you do execute me, bury me in her embrace, please.”

His trial began this week, and the prosecution has already said it intends to seek the death penalty. Adel appears to have no chance of escaping this sentence. Not only did he admit to murder with malice aforethought and describe in detail how he perpetrated it, but Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi recently launched a public campaign to protect women’s rights.

The president’s picture appeared on the cover of a well-known women’s magazine, and he has demanded that the justice system speed up the proceedings so that justice can be done. “It will be the swiftest death penalty possible,” one headline proclaimed.

This isn’t the first time Sissi has talked about advancing women’s rights, and sometimes he has even taken steps to do so. And considering the heavy flak he is taking – especially from the United States – for his ongoing, deliberate assault on human rights in Egypt, he isn’t likely to hesitate to ratify Adel’s certain death penalty.

Egyptian Mohamed Adel, the presumed murderer of university of Mansoura student Naira Ashraf, after his first trial session at the Mansoura courthouse, on Sunday.Credit: KHALED DESOUKI - AFP

But Sissi has a long road ahead of him if he truly wants to uproot attacks on women. While Adel’s investigation was still underway, a cleric and teacher at Al-Azhar University, Mabrouk Attia, posted a video in which he publicly told women, “Cover your head and don’t walk around in tight clothing if you don’t want to be murdered. A woman who goes out with loose hair and wears tight clothing, the men will eat her alive. This is the freedom tax the woman will pay.”

This brief video, about two minutes long, appears to have sparked a greater storm than the murder did. Tens of thousands commented on and shared it, and many of them supported it.

They asserted that a woman’s clothing and appearance in public are what cause sexual harassment and rape, and also severely undermine morality and societal values. Granted, a few of them said murder is “inappropriate,” but they nevertheless advised women – for their own safety, of course – not to go out in public in “provocative” clothing, lest they encourage men “with sickness in their hearts” to commit crimes against them.

Such comments were written by both men and women. And according to several media reports, women have begun using Photoshop to add head coverings to their pictures on Twitter and Facebook so they won’t become targets of attacks.

A women’s organization has filed a criminal complaint against Attia, accusing him of incitement and encouraging attacks on women. But it’s unlikely that he will ever stand trial as long as public opinion supports him.

Even Ashraf’s university initially announced that it had no interest in her murder, since it didn’t happen on campus. But the school later reversed course and paid for three lawyers to assist her family.

The Supreme Council for Media Regulation demanded that managers of social media sites remove videos and horrifying photographs of the murder being committed. The Justice Ministry ordered a gag order on any information connected to the trial and the circumstances of the murder, “to preserve the integrity of the trial.” And the courts administration issued an angry statement rejecting claims that the judges are already tainted by bias, and therefore, Adel has no chance of getting a fair trial.

But despite all this, there is currently no shortage of descriptions of the murder, reactions to it and videos on social media.

The authorities’ demands were evidently justified. Less than a week after Ashraf’s murder, someone entered the campus of the Applied Science Private University in Jordan, fired a hail of bullets at student Iman Ersheid and killed her. The gunman fled; the security services are still looking for him.

Ersheid, 20, wasn’t wearing tight clothing and always wears a hijab over her hair. Her only crime, as in Ashraf’s case, may well have been rejecting the murderer’s attempts to court her. The fear now is that there may be other copycat murders, and that the parameters of femicide that are condoned by large swaths of society may expand from “murder for the sake of family honor” to “murder for the sake of love’s honor.”

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