Egyptian woman’s death in Germany outrages Egyptian blogosphere

Last week (July 1), 32-year old Egyptian woman Marwa el-Sherbini was murdered in a Dresden court room - stabbed 18 times in front of her young son in an apparent hate crime. Five days on, there has been little media attention even in Germany, and the Egyptian blogosphere has responded in tandem with the outrage on the Egyptian street - calling the incident racist and anti-Islamic.
Egypt germany Marwa Sherbini
Marwa El-Sherbini - the 32-year old

BEIRUT, July 6, 2009 (MENASSAT)- Egyptians have responded with outright anger at the limited international attention given the brutal stabbing death of 32-year old Egyptian Marwa El-Sherbini inside a German courtroom last week.

As thousands of mourners marched aside El-Sherbini's coffin on Monday in her Mediterranean hometown Alexandria, her brother, Tarek El-Sherbini echoed the sentiments of the Egyptian street.

"In the West, they don't recognize us. There is racism," he told the Associated Press, as mourners carried banners condemning racism, chanting, "There is no god but God," and "The Germans are the enemies of God."

Anatomy of a crime

El-Sherbini moved to Germany four years ago when her husband, Elwi Ali Okaz, an employee at the Institute of Genetic Engineering at Egypt’s Menoufia University, was granted a fellowship at the Max-Planck-Institut in Dresden.

On August 21, 2008, El-Sherbini was spending the day with her then two-year old son at a playground in the Dresden suburb of Johannstadt. An argument ensued between El-Sherbini and a man passing by who had insulted her - calling El-Sherbini an “Islamist”, a "terrorist” and “slut."

Angered by the incident, El-Sherbini filed an official complaint against the 28-year old man, referred to in public records as “Axel W”.

The YouTube video surrounding the incident.

The man, reportedly a Russian of German decent who immigrated to Germany in 2003, was fined 780 Euros ($1,100) by a local court for calling El-Sherbini a “terrorist." Records indicate he had expressed his dislike of Muslims at his original trial.

Axel W, however, appealed the fine, and a state court agreed to hear the case in Dresden in early July.

Minutes before El-Sherbini was to testify at the hearing last Wednesday, “Axel W” attacked her inside the court room and stabbed her 18 times with a knife in front of her three-year old son.

El-Sherbini died of her injuries on the court room floor.

German prosecutors said that as El-Sherbini's husband came to her aid, he was also stabbed by the neighbor and then shot in the leg by a security guard who initially mistook him for the attacker.

He is now in critical condition in a German hospital, according to El-Sherbini's brother.

Tarek El-Sherbini told an Egyptian television station, "The guards thought that as long as he wasn't blond, he must be the attacker so they shot him."

Prosecutors in Dresden have said El-Sherbini’s killing was a racial hate crime.    

According to an AP report, Dresden prosecutor Christian Avenarius said that El-Sherbini’s assailer “was driven by a deep hate of foreigners” and that he “harbored a deep hatred of Muslims."

Avenarius believed “Axel W” was acting on his own, saying the killing was “a xenophobic attack of a fanatical lone wolf."

In Cairo, Magdi Al-Sayed, press officer at the German embassy in Cairo, echoed the claims made by Avenarius emphasizing that the case was isolated and did not in any way reflect German attitudes towards Muslims.

“It is a criminal act. It has nothing to do with persecution against Muslims,” Sayed told the Egyptian state newspaper The Egyptian Gazette.

“Axel W” remains in detention and is currently being investigated for manslaughter, a spokesman for the Dresden prosecutor’s office said. Unverified reports said on Monday that there is a possibility he might be tried for murder.

The case has raised concerns over the security standards in German courts. Following the stabbing of El-Sherbini, Chairman of the German judge federation, Christoph Frank, called for safety and security measures to be brought up to standard.

Egyptian blogosphere: oh international media, where art thou?

Despite the heinous nature and circumstances of the crime, little has been reported about it in international media.

As of Saturday, three days after the killing, the only major international news media outlet that appeared to have reported on the incident was the AP.

A very different pattern emerged when compared to another recent brutal killing, namely that of Iranian student “Neda” who was shot dead during a protest in Teheran a few weeks ago.

Neda’s agonizing death, caught on tape by a mobile phone camera, was aired over and over again on all the major news networks. Countless articles were published on her death.

And while the German media also bombarded the airwaves with stories of Neda's murder, German media has been tight-lipped about the stabbing death of El-Sherbini.

In response to the lack of international media response, the Egyptian blogosphere has erupted with commentary.

The Cairo-based blog Bikya Masr claims it was the first English-language source to report on the killing of El-Sherbini on Friday; two days after the incident. The failure of European and North American media to report on El-Sherbini, it says, demonstrates the bias of the western media. 

“All the talk of ethics and equality in the Western media has gone out the window with the recent killing of Marwa Al Sherbini in Dresden, Germany. The failure to report the killing has highlighted the gulf that exists in mainstream media across Europe and North America. It is a horrible state they find themselves in when Bikya Masr is the first English language source to report the killing. We did so on Friday, before even the wires found time to issue a few limited paragraphs on the situation,” read a post on the blog.

In a “What If game” posted on his blog, Hicham Maged tried to imagine El-Sherbini's case if it had been a westerner killed by a Muslim extremist.

“Just imagine if the situation was reversed and the victim was a westerner who was stabbed anywhere in the world or -God forbid- in a Middle Eastern country by Muslim extremists. You definitely would have heard the world’s buzzing….it fills me with sadness how we are almost finishing the first 10 years of the 21st century and still do not know how to understand our differences. Hereby, I wonder about dealing with misconception about Islam and Muslims!,” he wrote in a blog post called "Hate everything about you."

Following the same line of thinking, Egyptian blogger Zeinobia argues that if the El-Sherbini would have been a member of a different minority group, such as homosexuals, the case would have been featured more prominently in the international press.

“This is for sure a hate crime but unlike other hate crimes, like homophobic crimes or anti-Semitic crimes, it did not make the headlines abroad and I do not know why !This is a racist crime;  a woman is shot down like that so simple in the court room for God sake and it is not important to be covered in the media as it should !,” wrote Zeinobia in a blog post titled “What if she were a lesbian?"

Meanwhile, blogger Sadafat argues that if the hate crime had targeted someone of Jewish descent, more actions would have been taken in response.

“If a Jew was hurt, in Germany, even with a word or a joke, the prime minister would have done everything, and called Fox News and Sky News to defend Semitism and would have even declared war on anti-Semites. But no one will cry over the Egyptian woman who died there,” Sadafat said according to a translation made by the international blog community Global Voices.

Mourner's testimony

Alexandria-resident Ahmed Esmat, founder of the publication “Alex agenda,” went to El-Sherbini's downtown Alexandria funeral

He told MENASSAT that many turned up to attend the funeral, both Muslims and Christians. Many of the funeral attendees ended up standing in the street due to lack of space.

“The governor of Alexandria was there along with many students and other people. There were lots of people,” Esmat said.

Esmat expressed disappointment over the notion that few human rights and civil society groups have issued statements or taken action on El-Sherbini’s killing.

“Where are all the human rights organizations and activists? No statements are being issued. No one is saying anything,” said Esmat.

For pictures from Monday’s funeral, please visit the Alexandrian Egyptian blog: