In this Christmas season, and amidst the doom and gloom in the Middle East, I like to share these two stories from Egypt.
First, Mohamed Ayman Shaweeka, a young Egyptian soldier, saved the life of 16 of his comrades in the town of Al-Masaeed in the North Sinai city of El-Arish when he embraced a suicide bomber with his body moments before the explosion occurred. Mohamed died just 15 days before his 21st birthday, but his bravery made him a hero in the eyes of millions in Egypt.
Mohamed, the most common Muslim name, is now associated with terrorism, radicalism, and barbarity. Yet Mohamed is actually the antidote of that image. He died not to kill, but to save lives.
His story, although widely covered in Egypt, was ignored in Western media—probably because it is considered taboo to praise any Egyptian soldier since the 2013 coup, although this is counter-productive to say the least.
At a time when Islamophobia is on the rise, it is crucial to highlight how young Muslims are fighting terrorism. If Mohamed was just doing his job in “Sisi’s army” (as some Islamists would like to portray the Egyptian army), he would have simply tried to save his own life. But he did not. He definitely knew that embracing the terrorist would cost him his life, but he still did it, because—like many Egyptians—he joined the army to defend his country, regardless of the senior brass’s political stance.
As the fifth anniversary of the January 25th revolution approaches, it is important to distinguish between the politics of the army and the loyalty of the army cadres to Egypt. The Egyptian army is the biggest melting of Egyptian youth from around the country. Like Mohamed, those youth are not mercenaries serving a dictator, but loyal citizens serving their country.
R.I.P. Mohamed Ayman Shaweeka
The second story is more cheerful.
Youssef El-Sayed Radi is a 26-year-old, very stylish Freska seller in Cairo. Freska is an Egyptian delicacy made of very thin layers of crispy wafer stuck together with a smear of honey, often together with coconuts and/or nuts. It’s a commonly available famous beach snack at Egyptian beach resorts. Recently, many Freska sellers have started to appear in Cairo as well, for various economic reasons.
Youssef, however, does not fit the common stereotype of a Freska seller. He is not just well educated, but also well dressed and someone who loves good quality music. More importantly, he is not a snob. He relentlessly tours the hot dusty streets of Cairo, still elegantly dressed, selling his tasty Freska. Youssef is one of many unemployed young Egyptians, but unlike his peers who spend their days sitting in cafes smoking hubble-bubble and complaining about the lack of jobs, he sees no problem in selling Freska. In fact, he is proud of what he’s doing.
Manual jobs in most Arab countries are considered low ranking jobs allocated only to the poor and uneducated. Therefore, it is refreshing to see a bright, elegant young man not only embracing such a job, but also doing it with such elegance. He has been attacked and mocked by many, but he’s been embraced and respected by many more.
While many Egyptians try many legal—and illegal—ways to leave the country and live abroad, Youssef has decided to stay and fight. He opted to make his life more enjoyable despite the hardship. And for that, he deserves a lot of respect.
Western media paints Arabs and Muslims as terrorists or illegal immigrants, but let’s remember that many Arab youth are trying to fight back and work in their native countries. There is still hope for the future, as long as there are youth like Mohamed and Youssef.