CAIRO (AP) — The Egyptian president has spoken publicly for the first time about the recent shooting death of a female protester, calling her a "martyr" and offering condolences to her family and all Egyptians "pained" by her death, newspapers reported Monday.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's comments reflected a nod to activists enraged by a killing they see as a cold-blooded murder of a colleague and the latest example of the use of excessive force by police at a time when el-Sissi's government is accused of suppressing freedoms and trampling on human rights.
Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, 32-year-old mother and activist, was killed while taking part in a peaceful protest on Jan. 24 in Cairo. Her death was captured in social media footage, including a clip showing two masked policemen pointing their rifles in her direction, followed by sounds of gunshots. She was wounded by birdshot and died at the scene. Activists and witnesses at the rally blame the police for her death.
Both private and state-owned papers on Monday quoted el-Sissi as saying he views Egyptian men and women as his own children. El-Sabbagh "is my daughter ... no one should doubt that," he said.
Despite the outcry over el-Sabbagh's death, el-Sissi has resisted growing calls for abrogating a draconian law adopted in 2013 that bans street protests without prior government approval, a key activist demand.
"I offer my condolences to the family of the martyr and every Egyptian pained by her death," el-Sissi said.
"An individual's mistake should not be used to undermine an entire institution (police)," he added, speaking at a meeting Sunday with army and police commanders, top politicians, religious leaders and prominent media figues.
At the meeting , el-Sissi also urged Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, to uncover "the truth behind" el-Sabbagh's death.
Ibrahim has said he would personally hand over any policeman found to have been involved in the killing.
However, a senior ministry official, Gamal Mukhtar, last week insisted el-Sabbagh was killed by a type of bullet not used by the police. He also claimed the footage of her death may have been fabricated by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.