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Vigil recognizes slaying that helped spark Egyptian uprising

By Ingy Hassieb,

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt —Hundreds of Egyptians walked in silence Monday evening as the sun set over this Mediterranean city to commemorate the anniversary of a beating death that helped spark the country’s revolution.

These Alexandria streets over the past year have been the scene of furious protests, looting, clashes and finally euphoria in February when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. The gathering Monday stood in stark contrast.

Those who showed up along the winding corniche to remember 28-year-old Khaled Said’s death were largely quiet. Many sat holding candles as passersby offered words of consolation to a family that has so far has not received vindication in a court of law.

Several said they were protesting the postponement of a verdict in the case of the two police officers charged with bludgeoning the young businessman to death.

Egyptian judges presiding over inflammatory cases, including Said’s, have in recent weeks delayed proceedings, apparently fearing that trials and rulings could unleash violence.

“The government is being so slow with its verdict because they want to blame us and other people who still go out to the streets and protest for bringing the country to a halt,” said Salwa Gaber, one of the demonstrators.

Ali Kassem, Said’s uncle, said the judges overseeing his nephew’s case told him they worried about the ramifications of announcing a verdict at a time when the country remains chaotic. Kassem said federal police officials have not staffed precincts in the city to normal levels to convince people that the resolution of the case could lead to more instability.

“My faith in the Egyptian judiciary has no limits and I trust them blindly,” Kassem said. “The hearings faced constant delays because the ministry of interior was trying to pressure everybody with their withdrawal. The courts just couldn’t operate when the security situation was so loose.”

Raafat Nawar, an attorney representing Said’s family, said he is hopeful for a positive outcome. A verdict could come as soon as June 30.

“I’m optimistic and I know the verdict will be fair,” Nawar said.

Relatives say Said was savagely beaten by police officers after they discovered he had acquired a cellphone video clip that showed corrupt officers splitting up seized drugs and money.

They say officers assaulted Said and later told his mother that he asphyxiated after swallowing a plastic bag containing marijuana. Morgue photos leaked to the family showed his bruised, mangled face and body.

The case resonated with many Egyptians who had come to see the country’s police as a callous, heavy-handed force prone to abuses.

After a flurry of protests against the police in the seaside city last year, prosecutors filed charges against two low-level officers who allegedly took part in the slaying.

Protester Ahmed Fathy, 22, said authorities should have prosecuted supervisors who participated in the cover-up.

Said “was tortured to death by the police,” Fathy said. “He is a martyr and the least the court could do is sentence everyone involved to death.”

Said’s death became a cause celebre in Egypt after Google executive Wael Ghonim created a Facebook page under the title,“We Are all Khaled Said.”

In online memorials for Said, many Egyptians in recent days have called for judicial authorities to also pick up the pace of the prosecutions of Mubarak and other senior officials accused of abuses.

“I’m not convinced that they’re holding any trials,” said protester Khaled Samir. “We haven’t seen any of those trials on television. We need to see the symbols of corruption in the media so that we can believe that justice is being served.”

Hassieb is a special correspondent.

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