Wednesday’s papers: Bus-driver shooting, Bedouin-state relations, Abu Zaid as infidel

Yesterday’s bus-driver shooting takes the lion’s share of all front pages today. Independent and state-run papers alike lead with the story of a bus driver at a construction firm who opened fire on his passengers, killing at least six and injuring others. 

Mahmoud Taha Sueilem was driving engineers and other employees to the Arab Contractors company in 6 October City when, according to Rose el-Youssef, eyewitnesses say the driver stopped his bus, raised an automatic rifle which had been hidden underneath his seat, and called on two of his colleagues. He then shot the colleagues, killing them. Suleiman reportedly stood by the two bodies and shouted: “Please I don’t want anyone to move; I don’t want to kill any one of you,” according to the paper.

Rose el-Youssef also quotes the suspect’s brother as saying that Sueilem had been working for the company for the last 20 years and never had any problems with anyone working there.

Both Al-Ahram and Al-Gomhurriya report that the suspect committed his crime as an act of revenge against some of his colleagues who had been digging for antiquities underneath his house in the western suburb of Helwan. The independent daily Al-Shorouq however comes up with an entirely different account of the suspect’s motive, quoting one of Sueilem’s friends as saying that the driver was facing financial problems and had applied for a loan from the company, but both the cashier and the financial manager had turned him down. These two happened to be the first people that Sueilem shot in the bus, according to the paper. Al-Shorouq adds that the prosecutor ordered that Sueilem’s blood be tested to find out whether he was under the influence of drugs.

There is no consensus over the number of victims, with each paper giving different figures. Al-Ahram writes that six were killed and six were injured, Al-Gomhurriya reports eight dead and four injured, and Al-Shorouq reports the number of six and five respectively.

As confrontation between the police and Bedouins intensifies, news content from Sinai is dedicated significant space in many papers. Al-Dostour’s weekly edition carries a six-page report on the standoff, with a detailed timeline for the escalation of violence since 2004.

In that year the police were accused of committing many human rights violations against Bedouins during investigations that followed the Taba bombings. According to Al-Dostour, these violations antagonized the Sinai population and culminated in the deterioration of state-Bedouin relations. The report also dwells on the socio-economic conditions of Sinai, highlighting the most impoverished geographic areas in the peninsula and holding the government responsible for the rampant poverty and unemployment among the Bedouins.

Away from crime and violence, the sudden death of Islamic scholar Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid still casts its shadow on the national press. Coverage is divided between obituaries and articles that question Abu Zaid’s Islamic faith.

“Dr. Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid, the university professor, the serious researcher and the most famous intellectual victim in the Arab region has died,” writes the controversial playwright Ali Salem in Rose el-Youssef. “I am writing about him because he is the embodiment of the level of injustice that a person can face simply for the reason that he thinks differently to his colleagues and men on the street.”

Ironically enough, the front page of the same paper features an article on a completely different wavelength–a short piece that probes the opinions of some Al-Azhar scholars as to whether Abu Zaid can still be dismissed as an infidel.

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