Brutal murders spark media backlash

The gruesome double murder of 23-year-old Heba El-Akkad, daughter of Moroccan singer Leila Ghofran, and her friend Nadine Khaled, 19, in a gated community in suburban Cairo has sent shockwaves through Egyptian society. Family and friends of the victims are outraged by the media coverage, some of which has focused not on the killer but on the girls' lifestyle.
Heba el-Akkad and Nadine Khaled. R.R.

BEIRUT, December 9, 2008 (MENASSAT) — The Al-Nada compound in Cairo's 6th of October neighborhood is the kind of place where people who can afford it move to feel safe from the dangers of the outside world. But on November 27, the gated community failed to offer protection for 23-year-old Heba El-Akkad and 19-year-old Nadine Khaled. The two university students were brutally stabbed inside Khaled's home, where El-Akkad was sleeping over, and died from their wounds shortly afterwards.

It was Al-Akkad's husband who was first alerted to the crime when he received a phone call from his wife. Heba Al-Akkad had been stabbed half a dozen times but managed to make the phone call moments after her attacker had left. By the time her husband reached the Khaled house, his wife's friend, Nadine Khaled, was dead; Heba al-Akkad died shortly after being rushed to hospital.

Last week, Mahmud Sayed Abdel Hafiz, a 20-year-old blacksmith from the poor neighborhood of Rod El-Farag, was arrested and charged with the gruesome murders.

According to Daily News Egypt, Abdel Hafiz at first denied having committed the murders, saying he only broke into the Al-Akkad house to steal valuables. But after he was taken to Khaled’s apartment for a reenactment—which was video-taped and aired on most Egyptian TV channels the next day— and his DNA and fingerprints were linked to the murder weapon, Abdel Hafiz broke down and confessed.

'Drugs, alcohol and sex'

The murders were shocking enough by themselves, but in their aftermath much of the outrage has centered on the way the Egyptian mass media have covered the crime.

Instead of talking about the police investigation, many media outlets instead focused on the girls' lifestyle, suggesting that they lived in debauchery, indulging in drugs, alcohol and extramarital sex. The fact that Heba was the daughter of the famous Moroccan singer, Leila Ghofran, made the story even juicier.

Nadine Khaled, Nadine and Heba together, and Heba El-Akkad with her husband.

Under the title Media Whores: The Egyptian Media's Defamatory Coverage of the Murders of Heba & Nadine, the website Muslimahwatch summed up the press coverage of the murders.

"They said that Nadine is one of Egypt's elite, living it up in a sumptuous villa enclosed in one of Egypt's many exclusive compounds. She lives alone, meaning she was loose and had no morals. She held huge parties with men coming and going at all hours. She and Heba were high on drugs and booze, and the man who killed them did so violently, meaning it was a crime of passion. It was so violent it couldn't have been a robbery. The neighbors heard shouts, which means Nadine was arguing with a man—it must be a boyfriend. Oh, and also, she gave LE 40,000 to a boy at university, that must mean something. Perhaps trading in drugs?"

The rumor that El-Akkad had married without her parents' approval was immediately picked up by some of the media, who proceeded to speculate how her mother must have felt about this (rather than asking how she felt about her daughter being brutally murdered.)

Defending his daughter's honor on TV

Some publications also speculated as to whether a "drugs and alcohol party" had been taking place at Khaled's house the night of the murder—suggesting that this might somehow explain why they were murdered. But friends of the victims have refuted that claim.

"There was no party going on. Nadine was baking a cake; Heba was preparing dinner and the other girl who left early was doing the dishes. I called them that same night and they told me so," a friend of the victims speaking told Daily News Egypt. The friend also said that neither of the girls were known to use drugs.

The third girl, who left Khaled's house prior to the murders, has since kept a low profile and has reportedly refused all requests to speak to the media.

The media rumors went so far that Nadine Khaled's father went on television to defend his daughter's honor.

"My daughter has just been killed and I have to ask the coroner if she was a virgin to salvage her reputation," he said as he struggled to hold back tears. "I had to cancel the funeral because of what the press has reported. Haram what they did. Publish lies... If any of it was true, then write it! But if it's not, then don't ruin the memory of an innocent girl who died a horrible death."

Heba's mother, Leila Ghoufran, also appeared on TV, saying that her daughter shouldn't be persecuted for whatever she might have done as a teenager. (On Facebook, Heba is referred to as Heba Gawish.)

A newspaper apologizes

The media coverage has since sparked a huge backlash on Facebook, where thousands of people have joined groups dedicated to Heba and Nadine,  demanding apologies from the media.

"To any newspaper who did wrong to Nadine… Your apologies or the trash can is waiting for you," reads one banner that is circulating on the internet.

At least one newspaper, the independent daily Al-Badil, has already responded to the call and issued a public apology its coverage.

"Our thanks to all newspapers who apologized. The courage of apologizing was Al Badil's... The invitation is still open to other newspapers. Your apologies or the trash can! An open invitation to boycott tabloid newspapers," reads another banner. 

Many of the members of the groups raise doubts over whether the police have actually caught the murderer or whether the arrest of Abdel Hafiz was a move in desperation based on the high-profile character of the murderers.

Some members of the Facebook groups have also voiced doubts about the arrest of Mahmud Sayed Abdel Hafiz, suggesting that his arrest may have been prompted by the high-profile nature of the case.

The murders of Heba and Nadine come on the heels of another sensational murder case, the death of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim in Dubai for which Egyptian business tycoon Hisham Talaat Mustafa is currently on trial.

On Facebook:

► Heba Gawish, may you Rest In Peace

► R.I.P nadine khaled i love u and i know every one else did. pray 4 her