CAIRO — Mina Daniel, a 20-year-old Coptic Christian, protested for more than a year against poverty, human rights abuses and discrimination. He became one of the young leaders of the revolution that toppled Egypt’s president in February.
His courage earned him respect from fellow revolutionaries and cost him two bullet wounds. His revolutionary spirit prompted him to grow a beard like Argentine Marxist icon Che Guevara.
On Oct. 9, the 44th anniversary of Guevara’s death, Daniel was facing Egyptian security forces in downtown Cairo when he died like his hero, a bullet apparently fired by a soldier piercing his chest.
The death has given a name and a face to what activists describe as the second wind of a revolution. The target is the country’s military leadership, which assumed power after Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down and, in the ensuing months, has resorted to many of the loathed tactics of the police state Egyptians are trying to dismantle.
“Mina’s death is a way of exposing the lies of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” said Heba Morayef, an Egypt researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The military was cheered when it promised to help with the country’s transition to democracy. But, since then, they have faced heavy criticism for arresting and trying thousands of people in hasty military tribunals, using force to disperse protesters and censoring the media. Human rights advocates say the violent clash that took Daniel’s life and at least 24 others is final proof that the military leadership has hijacked the revolution.
The incident began when Daniel and hundreds of others took to the streets of the capital demanding protection for minority Coptic rights. The military leadership has publicly denied killing the unarmed protesters, insisting that any deaths were accidental or caused by others who sparked the violence. But chilling video of armored personnel carriers running over people and the fatal bullet wound to Daniel’s chest seem to indicate the opposite.
Recent polls showed that the military rulers had a more than 80 percent approval rating. But the deaths have swayed Egyptians who were on the fence about the military and hardened those who were already souring on military rule, analysts said.
At a vigil for those killed, some said they had come to call for the end of military rule only after seeing the images of the dead on television.
“I believe people were in a peaceful march and met with violence,” said Atef Shukri, a protester and Muslim movie director. “Before I was unsure about military rule and now I’m angry.”
Members of the Coptic community say they feel that they’re under a deeper threat than at any time in recent memory. A string of church attacks since the uprising has plagued them, instilling fear among Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the population. The recent clashes have also turned some Egyptians against Coptic Christians, after state television and other officials blamed them for the violence and deepened the historic sectarian divide.
For many here, Daniel’s death recalls the brutal death of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old composer who was beaten by police. Local authorities tried to cover it up, but after relatives obtained morgue photos of his mangled corpse, a Facebook page called “We are all Khaled Said” became a rallying cry that mobilized people around the country against the Mubarak regime.
Now, a Facebook page called “We are all Mina Daniel” has drawn more than 23,000 “likes” in less than a week. For the first time, protesters are calling Mohammed Hussein Tantawi -- the leader of the ruling military council and the Mubarak-era defense minister — a murderer.
“Down, down with the military government. Revolution in every street,” hundreds of protesters chanted at the vigil. “Oh Mina, oh martyr, another revolution all over again.”
Irritated drivers who just wanted to get on with their business honked angrily, a noisy reminder that the protesters were still in the minority. A recent poll by the International Peace Institute found that 53 percent of Egyptians think continued protests are unnecessary.
But the protesters who sparked the January revolution began as a minority as well.
Daniel, raised in a poor Coptic family in southern Cairo, was moved to activism after a drive-by shooting in 2010 that killed six Christians and a Muslim. He began to advocate for minority rights, then for the poor, and democratic socialism. When the demonstrations flared up in Cairo’s Tahrir Square at the end of January, Daniel became a leading figure in the youth Freedom and Justice movement and developed a reputation as a bridge between Muslims and Christians.
At Daniel’s apartment , his mother, Nadia Feltes, 55, swathed in black, received guests paying their condolences. His two sisters wore mass-produced black T-shirts with his face on them and scanned the Internet for new Youtube videos and posts about their brother on social media sites.
In Daniel’s bedroom, a crucifix lay on his bed with the figure of Jesus splayed on top. Someone had taped a poster of Daniel above the bed with the word “martyr” emblazoned beneath his portrait. The notes his sisters used to scrawl on his walls, urging him to eat and to get enough sleep were still there.
When Daniel’s sister, Mary, found him lying on the hospital floor, wrapped in a blanket, he was already dead. She insisted on viewing the body and saw the fresh bullet wound in his chest. When her mother arrived she did the same, demanding an autopsy report for her son.
“I wanted to see him one more time,” Nadia said. “I needed to know how he died.
Still denying a role in the killings, the military council last week issued a decree banning discrimination against minorities, making it a crime punishable by jail time. But Daniel’s family and friends believe the new law is a cynical attempt to deflect blame.
“They issue this law and they are the perpetrators of bigotry,” a neighbor said.
As Daniel lay dying on the street, his friend Tony Sabry, 19, held him.
Daniel said he wanted his body to be “celebrated in Tahrir Square,” he told Sabry, just as some of the nearly 900 killed in the revolution were paraded through the center of the uprising.
Last week he got his wish.
“We will have an even greater revolution now,” Mary said. “The young people are so angry, there is no reform. Egypt is on the edge of an abyss. One step and we fall into nothingness.”