Monday, March 5, 2012


Debts Closed in on Egypt Man Who Died Hanged in His Jail Cell
By Jeffrey Fleishman
The Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2012
"His mother visited him hours before he twisted the edges of his blanket into a rope. 'You'll be out soon,' she told him. 'We paid bail.' 'There's a problem,' he said. 'I owe more.' He hadn't been in his village in months, a scrap of a place tucked amid fields that stretch past the canal to the paved road. The boys on this land learn early to sharpen plow blades and make scarecrows out of grain sacks. It's cold when the rain blows and tough to make a living on, even for a man who cuts furrows. He came home, but in a way no one wanted. 'I guess his life just went black,' said the detective who was called the day guards found Shawadfi Mohamed in his cell. 'Every time he settled one debt there were others waiting for him,' said his wife, Wafaa. Carpenter. Driver. Farmhand. Mohamed was all of them. But they weren't enough in the frayed economy of the Nile Delta. Men running for parliament came up here and said things would get better; maybe they will, but they haven't for decades. No one from Mohamed's village went to the revolution last year in Cairo's Tahrir Square; it was too far and there was no money to get down there and back. People talk about a new Egypt, but it hasn't found the delta yet. The detective, a big man with a mustache who, as is customary with police officials here, asked not to be named, moved his hand in front of him like a plane in a nosedive: 'It was bad before the revolution, now it's worse,' he said, sitting in the station house. 'People can't afford anything unless it's on installments. They don't have birth control, they have a lot of kids, and they have to pay for a lot of weddings and it's all tied up in installments.' A man in the delta is not a man until he's married. Mohamed met Wafaa, a girl from another village, seven years ago. She caught his eye and he went to her family, who said yes. He started borrowing money for the dowry, the wedding, and then the children came -- three boys in five years. He thought about going to work in Libya, like many others in the delta before Libya had its own revolution, but the police wouldn't grant him a passport with all his debts. 'He loved his wife and kids,' said Hamid, Mohamed's uncle. 'He just wanted better for them.' Mohamed had $5,000 worth of IOUs spread out for miles. In this stingy land, it was a sum impossible to make good on unless a man turned to darker things. [...]"

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