The latest public face of police abuse in Egypt would have survived being shot by the police if she weren’t so thin, according to the officials in charge of investigating her death.
Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was among protesters when she was shot by Egyptian police in January while carrying a bouquet to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on the anniversary of the 2011 revolution. But her death was apparently just a tragic fluke: Hisham Abdel Hamid, a spokesman for Egypt’s medical examiner said on Saturday that the 31-year-old, “according to science, should not have died.”
Not the typical Egyptian dissident, Sabbagh was a secular leftist who supported president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s 2013 military ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood. Bystanders filmed her death at the hands of the police — shot at a distance of just eight yards — from multiple angles. The anonymous officer who shot her is expected to face manslaughter charges.
Speaking in a broadcast on Egyptian television, Abdel Hamid compared Sabbagh, “like skin over bone,” to a man marching by her side. “Under his skin, he had layers of fat and I don’t know what else,” which blocked the birdshot pellets from killing him.
Sabbagh was apparently struck with birdshot across twenty inches of her back, as well as on the left side of her face. The spokesman said that “four or five” pellets killed her by entering her heart and lungs.
The New York Times quoted Sarah Leah Whitson, a Human Rights Watch executive who called the medical analysis “ridiculous.” According to Whitson, such claims “add a thick layer of absurdity to the government’s endless record of killings and impunity.”
In recent months, Egypt has seen repeated incidents of police opening fire as a precautionary measure. In February, over a dozen soccer fans died as police attempted to control an unruly crowd. (RELATED: Sports Fans Dead As Egypt’s Police Trouble Continues)
According to Egyptian news website Rassd, political activists mocked Abdel Hamid’s explanation. One sarcastically remarked online: “Clearly, it’s her fault that she didn’t eat a hearty lunch before she got shot!”
Despite security officials’ apparent regret over Sabbagh’s death, her fellow marchers are still being charged with participating in a demonstration without a permit.
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