A week ago, Heba Akad, the daughter of famous Moroccan singer, Laila Ghofran, was brutally murdered while sleeping over at the house of one of her girlfriends.
Her girlfriend, Nadine Gamal, was also murdered and died from stab wounds and a slashed neck.
Heba, who was stabbed half a dozen times, called her husband as soon as the murderer left and told him what had happened. It took her husband two hours to drive over to the apartment at Sheikh Zayed, a city on the outskirts of Cairo, and by the time he got there, Nadine had died. Heba died in the operating room shortly after her husband got her to the hospital.
The deaths of the two 23-year-olds (pictured left), both college students, are tragic.
But what is more tragic is the way the Egyptian media dealt with the murders. Rather than answering (or attempting to answer) the 5W’s and H in their articles (Who, what, where, when, why, how), they decided to use the front page spots to create what I can only call sensationalist trash. Headlines such as “Hashish and opium and drugs” were a dime a dozen.
“If it bleeds, it leads.” So true.
The papers had a field day publishing rumors, manipulating facts, embellishing half-truths, and focusing on (what they believed were) the lives of the two women rather than their deaths.
To sum up what (the majority) of the press reported:
Nadine is one of Egypt’s elite, living it up in a sumptuous villa enclosed in one of Egypt’s many exclusive compounds. She lives alone, meaning she was loose and had no morals. She held huge parties with men coming and going at all hours. She and Heba were high on drugs and booze, and the man who killed them did so violently, meaning it was a crime of passion. It was so violent it couldn’t have been a robbery. The neighbors heard shouts, which means Nadine was arguing with a man—it must be a boyfriend. Oh, and also, she gave LE 40,000 to a boy at university, that must mean something. Perhaps trading in drugs?
Speculations, assumptions and downright lies.
Heba was not hung out to dry in the media, perhaps because of who she was, and perhaps because she didn’t commit the scandalous crime of living on her own. But once the papers found out that she had married her husband behind her parent’s backs, the press tore her to shreds. Who cares how she was murdered or who murdered her? Let’s write about how her mother must feel at this moment! Let’s focus on that!
Nadine’s father, the poor, distraught man, appeared on national TV during one of the nation’s most watched news programs, Al-Beit Beitak (This house is your house), to refute what had been said about his daughter.
Nadine’s parents are middle class, and live in Saudi Arabia. She came to Egypt to study. She lives alone in an apartment, not a villa. Her father paid for the apartment over the space of three years, and had to wait another year before he had saved enough money to actually make it habitable. Nadine had been living with her grandparents in Giza, which was a two hour commute both to and from her college. Her grandfather was bedridden and her grandmother was also taking care of two other grandchildren, both of whom had Down’s Syndrome. Tired of the commute and of being an added burden on her grandmother, Nadine asked her father to live in the apartment nearer to her university.
Her dad called her a dozen times a day on a special Saudi line (to save money) to make sure she was okay. She held no parties. She was a “good girl.” The boy the papers said she gave LE 40,000 to was a boy who was thinking of proposing to her. No money was ever exchanged. And she wasn’t his girlfriend in the way the papers insinuated she was—the coroner told her dad that she was a virgin. Blood tests showed there was no drink or drugs in either of the girl’s systems and no drink or drugs were found in the apartment.
“My daughter has just been killed and I have to ask the coroner if she was a virgin to salvage her reputation,” said her father on TV as he struggled to hold back tears. “I had to cancel the funeral because of what the press has reported. Haram what they did. Publish lies. Nahsh a’rad alnas [An Arabic phrase that translates as "clawing the honor of people."] If any of it was true, then write it! But if it’s not, then don’t ruin the memory of an innocent girl who died a horrible death.”
A Facebook group with almost 2,000 members (another one has over 5,000 members) is asking newspapers for a public apology. Pictured right is one of three posters they’ve created saying: “To every newspaper who wronged Nadine and Heba. Your apology or the trash can is waiting for you.” At the bottom the text reads “An invitation to boycott yellow journalism.” Another poster reads “Nadine: To everlasting paradise. No condolences [accepted] from yellow journal[ists].”
I am totally disgusted. It’s press like this that gives us journalists a bad reputation. If these were any two girls who were murdered, I’d bet anything that not even a tenth of the press coverage would have been given to their murders. But since it was the daughter of a famous singer that was killed, it’s news. And not just any news, but front page news for an entire week.
Yesterday the killer, Mahmoud Abd Al-Hafeeth, was apprehended. He’s only 20 years old. He bought a knife with him and entered the apartment to rob the women, only he woke up Heba. She screamed, he stabbed her. Nadine woke up, ran after him, so he stabbed her. She ran to the kitchen to get a knife, so he stabbed her in the back and slaughtered her, then tried to decapitate her to make sure she was dead. He then ran away.
And the worst part:
He killed them for LE 400 ($70) and a mobile phone.
All the papers published that it turned out there was no crime of passion, only a burglary that went very wrong. But not one paper apologized for what they had previously published.
If you understand Arabic, you can watch the episode on Al-Beit Beitak which talks about the arrest of the murderer here, where the host asks the Journalist’s Syndicate to investigate what the papers wrote and penalize them.
If you don’t understand Arabic, you can watch this small clip of the show, if only to see how nonchalant the murderer is when talking about his crime (he’s in the blue sweater and talks at 2:12) and reenacting—at the actual murder scene—how he climbed up the pipes.
In lela wa ina ilayhee rage’oon (From God and to Him we return).
May God give them peace.