Shaima al-Sabbagh: has justice been served?

Shaima al-Sabbagh: has justice been served?
3 min read
12 Jun, 2015
Analysis: An Egyptian police officer has been sentenced to 15 years' jail over the death of Shaima al-Sabbgh in January. Details of the sentence tell a different story.
The photographs of Shaima's death were circulated internationally [AFP].
On Thursday a Cairo Court sentenced a policeman, Salah Eddin, to 15 years in jail over the death of Shaima al-Sabbagh, who was shot in January during a protest marking the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

The verdict is significant, as it is the first time any significant punishment has been dealt to a member of Egyptian security forces over the killing of protesters since 2011.

Yet, the verdict is initial can still be appealed.  

The sentence, given not for murder, but "assault leading to the death" of Shaima meaning that, according to Egyptian law, he would serve only three to seven years for that particular crime. The additional years that make up the fifteen-year sentence come from other charges of "deliberately hurting protesters".

Thirteen members of the Socialist Alliance Party, to which Shaima belonged and who organised the protest, were later arrested on charges of violating a protest law. The charges were later dropped.

Of comfort to Egypt

Yesterday the deputy head of the party, Zoudy al-Shamy, told Mada Masr that the verdict was "comforting" for all Egyptians.

Commentators said the sentence could be a way to placate people in the face of some growing public criticism of the government that even stems from Sisi's traditional allies in the media, as well as public outrage surrounding the death.

The death of Shaima, which was captured in photos, elicited rare condemnation from the Egyptian media, even from government newspapers, such as al-Ahram, who demanded justice.

It might be difficult to paint Shaima heading to lay flowers at a memorial when she was shot, as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other serious danger to Egypt.
     I am the girl banned from love in the squares... I, the girl banned from saying no, will never miss the dawn.
Shaima al-Sabbagh

In response to her death, president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had referred to her as "my daughter" and "the daughter of Egypt".

The verdict against the police officer may also be seen in the context of disputes between the police and the military,

The military has consolidated power with the rise of Sisi at the expense of the police and interior ministry. Police were blamed for many abuses during the 2011 revolution, while protesters defended the military and shouting "people and the army are one hand".

Focus on police

On Sunday, Sisi apologised for any offences committed by the police in Egypt, in the wake of a policeman hitting a laywer by his shoe.

The courts have recently taken up other cases in which police have harmed civilians, including that of a lawyer allegedly tortured to death in a police station.

Estimates say that more than 5,540 people have been killed in political violence since 2011, and rights groups have reported that so far not one member of the security forces have been held accountable.

The political system that many of these protesters, including Shaima, died to change has remained largely unaltered, and baring that in mind, maybe justice will not be done until structual change and reform takes place.  

As well as being a political activist, Shaima was a keen poet, and some of her writing suggests her stance against multiple oppressions.

"I am the girl banned from love in the squares... I, the girl banned from saying no, will never miss the dawn," she wrote.