Marwa al-Sherbini, a thirty-two year old pharmacist pregnant with her second child, was at a park in Germany one day and asked a man to leave a swing for her three year old. The man responded by calling her names including “terrorist” and tried to pull off her headscarf. She brought him to court, and won the case, resulting in a 750 euro fine for the perpetrator, simply identified as Alex W. He in turn brought the case to court to appeal, and at the courthouse, ran across the room and stabbed al-Sherbini eighteen times. Her husband Elwi Okaz is in critical condition after being attacked by Alex W., as well as mistakenly being shot at by a guard.
In al-Sherbini’s native Egypt there has been an outpouring of sympathy and mourning, with the local press hailing her as the “headscarf martyr” because of how she stood up for her Muslim identity by taking her attacker to court. According to Time, thousands appeared at her funeral in Alexandria, some with banners decrying European Islamophobia.
The Western media delayed in reporting the story, causing members of the Egyptian press to point out how the story is yet another example of “how hate crimes against Muslims are overlooked in comparison to those committed by Muslims against Westerners.” (Huffington Post). A columnist for the Daily News Egypt notes, “Had the Muslim been the aggressor as the guards initially thought, the story would have made headlines … It would have perfectly fitted into the promoted image of Muslims being aggressive, barbaric and uncivilized.” Eventually though, outlets such as the BBC and CNN picked up the story, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her condolences to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the recent G-8 summit.
At the same time, some believe that the Egyptian government and press are exploiting the tragedy to distract is citizens from politics and human rights issues within Egypt. One Egyptian journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy claims, “The government is…trying to present itself as patriotic in defense of Egyptians abroad. What do they do for the Egyptians who are in the Gulf and who actually face similar treatment, if not worse?” A popular Egyptian blogger Mahmoud Salem comments, “It’s an opportunity to have fake outrage because it keeps Egyptians busy.”
Whatever the social and political implications may be, one cannot forget that Marwa al-Sherbini, a mother, daughter and wife, died a senseless and tragic death. May she rest in peace.