Three young boys, Abdulrahman, 7, Fares, 6, and Mahmoud, 4, were found scorched to death in their home in Helwan, a northern Cairo suburb on March 8, local media have reported.
Their mother, Kawthar Nafe’a, had left home to receive a weekly dosage of medicine at a nearby pharmacy. She returned home to find her family and her home in ruins.
The children’s father, Adel Nafe’a, remains in prison under terrorist charges, suspected of being a member of the militant ‘Helwan Brigades’. The group is affiliated with the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The state is engaged in a statewide clampdown, and has criminalised all forms of dissent.
Local officials have ordered a coroner’s report into the deaths of the three children.
Initial reports noted that they were burnt alive. However, later reports contradicted this, stating that the main cause of death was smoke inhalation, and that the children had first-degree burns on their hands, arms and face.
Brigadier Hazem Sa’eed, who led an investigation into the incident, told Al Bawabanews portal that an electrical short circuit set the home ablaze – and that there was no criminal footprint in the case.
Other officials cited asphyxiation as the main cause of the three deaths.
Were the deaths deliberate?
The case has raised alarm bells because of Egypt’s ongoing repression of the Muslim Brotherhood – some fear that the deaths were a state-sponsored reprisal for the Zalazel incident.
Adel Nafe’a is a member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. He stands accused of belonging to a paramilitary unit that directly targeted the security apparatus.
Handed over to Cairo’s criminal court in 2015, Nafe’a is still facing trial for 37 charges that include the torching of the Zalazel outpost adjacent to the central police station of the Helwan district.
“Unfortunately it breaks my heart that these three children are victims that will be added to the long list of victims that have fallen since the 2013 coup in Egypt,” Anas al Takriti, CEO and Founder of Cordoba foundation and a staunch supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood said.
“The saddest part of looking at Egypt is that most people have become totally sedated to the everyday catastrophes that are taking place,” Takriti said.
Repression in Egypt
Since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in the summer of 2013, the group was branded a terrorist outfit in direct confrontation with the military establishment.
The groups leading cadres are now imprisoned, exiled or dead. Tikriti’s account reflects the narrative of a broken Muslim brotherhood persecuted by the Sissi regime.
“We can never have an accurate idea of what’s going on due to the opaque nature of the security services,” Hossam Abougabal, an analyst at the Dubai-based Middle East Economic Digest said.
“I think it’s safe to say that there is a distinct lack of transparency particularly after 2013, making it impossible to have an informed opinion about major incidents that occur on a daily basis,” Abougabal said.
Far from its socio-political and economic zenith, Egypt today is a country that falls under daily scrutiny by human rights organisations that have lobbied strongly against Cairo over multiple high-profile cases. These include the murder of Cambridge student Julio Regeni and the imprisonment of renowned blogger Alaa Abd al Fattah.
“Many of our pro-democracy friends and colleagues do great work but they are not addressing the real issue, they are compartmentalising the incidents that are happening; a list of tragic and heartbreaking stories, but very seldom are we addressing the rot at the very heart of the system” Takriti said.
“The Brotherhood is not popular anymore,” Abougabal said. “That does not mean that we can excuse human rights abuses. But the reality is that many of the young cadres did become militants after 2013 and a direct threat to national security. Not everything can be accounted as a conspiracy.”
“We must treat every case differently – and unless you have sufficient evidence, then you are not speaking facts but theorizing the unknown” he said.