Egypt

In Egypt, A Jailed Blogger's Brief Farewell To His Father

Family and friends waited for incarcerated Egyptian blogger Shady Abu Zeid to be able to arrive at his father's funeral.

Egyptian blogger Shady Abu Zeid
Egyptian blogger Shady Abu Zeid
Hadeer El-Mahdawy

CAIRO — Confusion and fear — these were the dominant emotions at the Nour Mosque in Abbasseya Square, in the heart of Cairo. The family of 25-year-old satirist and video blogger Shady Abu Zeid, along with a number of his friends, were gathered for funeral prayers for Shady's father. Hassan Abu Zeid had died on the previous Saturday evening, after a severe deterioration in his health over the past few months.

The funeral prayers had been postponed for a few hours in the hope that Shady — who has been incarcerated since May 2018 — would be allowed to come and say goodbye to his father. On Sunday, the Supreme State Security Prosecution had agreed to grant him a temporary release so that he could attend his father's burial that day. The move came as a surprise — similar requests made by detainees to attend their relatives' funerals are often rejected, or see release procedures stall for so long that the funeral proceedings are over before the jailed relatives arrive. Shady's family had petitioned for him to be able to visit his father in intensive care, a request that had been summarily rejected.

A satirical video blogger, Shady is a comedian of slight build and strong presence. Last May, security forces raided his home with little warning. They searched his house, confiscated some of his belongings and arrested him. Ever since, he has been held in remand detention on vague charges: joining a terrorist organization and spreading false news. He was added to Case 621/2018, known to be a case that non-Islamist defendants are added to in order to silence them. Defendants currently include bloggers Mohamed Ibrahim (known as Oxygen) and Mohamed Khaled, as well as activists like Shady al-Ghazali Harb, Amal Fathy and Sherif al-Rouby.

In less than half an hour, the funeral prayers at the mosque were over, but Shady had not arrived. His father was carried out in a casket on people's shoulders, and placed in an undertaker's van to head to the family burial plot in Bab al-Nasr, in Cairo's Gamaleya district. Everyone hurried after the van, racing through a cold and bitter dust storm that seemed to reflect the cruelty of the situation: an imprisoned son, a father who died before seeing him free, and a family uncertain if he would make it in time for a final goodbye.

All eyes were fixated on the road leading to the burial plot.

At the burial plot, family and friends reconvened and the crowd had grown to be larger than the one at the mosque. Present were faces you would have once seen at rallies back in January 2011, but are now only seen at funerals and court hearings.

All eyes were fixated on the road leading to the burial plot, as people swapped unconfirmed bits of information regarding Shady's whereabouts. To kill time and the anxiety of waiting, some began discussing how best to receive Shady when he arrived: "We shouldn't gather around him in case we provoke security." "We should give him a moment ‘alone" with his father." "He might not make it — many other prisoners weren't allowed to leave."

People slowly began to believe that Shady wouldn't show up. "Perhaps they'll let him out tomorrow instead to receive condolences." The sheikhs present began reciting burial prayers. Shady's father was about to be lowered into the burial chamber when, suddenly, there was news — more certain, this time — that Shady was on his way.

So the people waited.

It was a two-hour wait for everyone, including the grieving elderly, all standing in the midst of the growing cold and dust. Everyone continued staring at the road expectantly, while Shady's father's body waited in its casket.

As the sun began to set and darkness approached, a police sergeant emerged. He examined the road to the graveyard to figure out a "safe passage" for Shady's arrival. One of Shady's uncles removed his jacket and tried to give it to the sergeant in the hope that it would be passed on to Shady.

A few minutes to say goodbye, under the watchful eyes of the surveilling security detail.

The waiting continued, as time seemed to stand still.

Security personnel — with officers from the State Security Investigations Services, the Cairo Security Directorate and the local police station — then appeared.

Shady emerged through what seemed like a back entrance to the burial plot. Wearing his prison uniform — a light, white tracksuit — he made his way to the front, surrounded by many guards and with his hands in shackles. Family members led him to the casket. There, he was permitted a few minutes to say goodbye, under the watchful eyes of the surveilling security detail.

The casket was finally lowered into the ground, amid increasingly loud sobs.

Family and friends negotiated with the officers to allow Shady to receive a few quick condolences from people present. Shady was permitted to stand by the side of the road, surrounded by guards who grudgingly allowed his sister, mother and a few other family members to stand next to him. Shady's uncle, still holding the jacket, put it over his nephew's shoulders.

Quicker than it had begun, the moment was over, and it felt as though there could have been little solace for Shady as he received a few hurried condolences before being escorted back to his prison cell.

After he was taken away, the crowd dispersed and only the cold remained.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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