More than 80 people lost eyes at the hands of Egypt’s security forces; now eyepatches have become a sign of respect.
Earlier this month hundreds of protesters gathered outside Cairo’s Qasr al-Aini hospital wearing eyepatches. It was further confirmation that Egypt‘s revolution had acquired a new symbol. Appearing in graffiti around the city and on a statue of a lion on the Qasr al-Nil bridge at the entrance to Tahrir Square, the eyepatch has come to represent the sacrifices made in Egypt’s struggle since January this year.
It reflects widespread anger felt towards Central Security Forces (CSF) snipers who, it is claimed, have targeted protesters’ heads – it has been reported that more than 80 people have lost eyes and many more have sustained head and neck injuries since the protests in January.
The activist Ahmed Harara, profiled in Time magazine last week in an edition that named “The Protester” as person of the year, has become well known for his eyepatch, labelled “January 28″ to commemorate the day he lost his eye. When intense fighting broke out in November, immediately before the elections, Harara was again shot in Tahrir Square and lost his other eye.
Claims by protesters that the targeting was more pronounced in the November clashes are backed up by Ghada Shahbender of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, who says she heard a high-ranking CSF officer instructing soldiers to aim at the protesters’ heads as she passed through their ranks on 19 November. She witnessed a number of people with eye injuries, including the prominent activist and blogger Malek Mostafa.
Shahbender, who opposed the elections going ahead while such confrontations were taking place, lodged a complaint about the targeted shooting. “The very high number of eye casualties and head and neck injuries indicate that they are abusing their weapons,” says Shahbender. “This is not riot dispersion, this is aiming to kill and to maim.”
As a sign of respect towards those who have lost eyes, teenagers have been seen wearing eyepatches to fake the loss of an eye. If anything, the attacks have only strengthened the determination of the protesters, who believe elections could lend legitimacy to Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf).
CSF continues to deny using rubber bullets or shotgun pellets, and there is little expectation that Mahmoud Sobhi El Shinawi, the CSF officer nicknamed the “Eye Hunter”, will be brought to book. “Wanted” signs appeared around Cairo after video evidence emerged that he was targeting protesters, but Shahbender says the CSF may be using him as a scapegoat.
“It’s not about that one shooter,” she says. “We have to see this in the context of a political force that is pushing for elections to take place, no matter what.”
This first appeared in The Guardian: G2 on 19 December, 2011
Photo credit: Gigi Ibrahim via a creative commons licence