Marwa killer gets life; Egypt, Arab World and Germany look for peace

CAIRO: After nearly four and a half months, the Marwa el-Sherbini saga has come to a conclusion of sorts after a German court sentenced the man who stabbed the “veiled martyr” 17 times inside the court in July to life in prison without possibility of early release. Egyptians, Arabs and Germans alike have welcomed the verdict and hope Europe and the Middle East can begin to heal the wounds of the killing and move “toward a better future.”
Joseph Mayton - Bikya Masr

For many, it is time to move on and look to the future. Speaking via telephone from Berlin, German journalist Henrich Egger told Bikya Masr that he believes justice was served to a man who “employed more racism than the overwhelming majority of Germans.

“We are all pleased to see this man go to prison for the rest of his life, but it won’t be the end if we Germans and Egyptians cannot begin to understand how to deal better with our differences,” the journalist said.

Back in Cairo, Dalia Yussif, a 35-year-old mother of two, believes Alex Wiens, the murderer, should have gotten the death penalty, but “the life sentence will let him suffer more, maybe. We know that not all Germans are racists and that many of them are our friends. It is just disappointing that this kind of discussion had to have Marwa die before we talked openly about the cultural struggle between Europe and us.”

Wiens had confessed to killing the woman, who has been dubbed the “veiled martyr” by Arabic media.

“It is true that I am hostile to foreigners but that was not the motive,” Wiens said in a statement read by one of his lawyers on November 4.

Prosecutors, including an Egyptian delegation from Cairo’s Lawyers Syndicate, had said that the man was driven “by a pronounced hatred of non-Europeans and Muslims.”

Sherbini was killed only minutes after winning a court case against the man for defaming her after he had called her a “terrorist” and demanded she return home on a Dresden playground.

The murder stimulated a cultural battle between Europe and the Arab world, with a number of Arabs claiming the murder was part of a larger problem facing European society, namely, racism and hatred of Muslims and Arabs.

“We have seen that Europe is growing more and more conservative by the day, so the killing was a shocking example of what some people will do in order to try to make us go back to where they think we come from,” said 27-year-old German-born Hana Jabar. The Tunisian-German artist, who has lived her entire life in Berlin, says that there are undercurrents within society that are very hateful toward Arabs.

“They don’t realize that there are Christian Arabs, that many of us were born here and are German citizens. They fear what they don’t know,” she added.

For el-Sherbini’s family, the tragic loss of their daughter led to a campaign against all things German. In Alexandria, local pharmacy’s called for a boycott of German products, but the movement drizzled out with little success. However, they did manage to get the Egyptian culture ministry to cancel two performances by the Dresden Symphony Orchestra.

In Europe, experts were quick to point to Egypt’s own problems with racism, arguing that they had no place to talk of Europeans failings while Africans and black people are “treated with such disregard it is appalling,” as one Geneva-based intellectual told Bikya Masr last summer.

But some Germans said that the cause behind the murder were well-founded within German, and European society. One student, who had traveled throughout the Middle East, said that it “is common in German press to downplay the existing racist and neo-fascist activities.”

One of the main factors that caused much angst among Egyptians and Arabs was the international media’s apparent lack of attention given to the murder. It was not until the anti-German chants began at the Alexandria protest days after the killing that major news networks began following the story. By then, it was too late, with Egyptians demanding a reason for what they called the “double standards” of Western news.

“If it had been a Christian white woman killed in an Egyptian courtroom, it would have been the lead story, then there would have been a discussion of how the Middle East hates America and the West, but in this case, there was nothing until a few Egyptians chanted against Germany,” said one Egyptian activist at the time, who was participating in the protests at German government buildings in Egypt.

In the end, the back and forth war of words died down and the German judicial system took charge of the case, which left the vast majority of Arabs at ease, but the cultural friction created by the murder continues still, as media have once again put Marwa’s picture back in the limelight.

Bikya Masr was the first English language publication to report Marwa’s murder in July.