Egyptian woman goes on hunger strike after son killed by celebratory gunfire at wedding

PHOTO: Four people have been sentenced in connection with the death of Youssef El-Alrabi, 13, but the boy’s mother says two have never been captured. PlayMarwa Kenawy
WATCH News headlines today: May 10, 2019

Pictures, paintings and drawings of a smiling 13-year-old who was killed by celebratory gunfire adorn the Cairo home of Marwa Kenawy, a heartbroken mother who is relentlessly calling for justice for her son.

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Youssef El-Arabi was struck in the head by machine gun rounds fired from a nearby wedding on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital two years ago, falling into a coma before succumbing to his wounds 12 days later.

Four people received sentences of up to seven years in jail for involuntary manslaughter and possession of firearms in May last year, but two have never been captured, prompting Kenawy to go on a hunger strike on March 31 to pressure authorities into arresting them.

With one of the culprits being a police officer and the other the son of a late member of parliament, the 45-year-old woman is worried they are being protected by their connections.

PHOTO: Marwa Kenawy is on a hunger strike as part of a campaign to draw attention to the dangers of celebratory gunfire, which killed her son two years ago. Hatem Maher/ABC News
Marwa Kenawy is on a hunger strike as part of a campaign to draw attention to the dangers of celebratory gunfire, which killed her son two years ago.

"I have never got an explanation from any officials over why the two men had not been arrested," Kenawy, dressed in the traditional all-black of mourning, told ABC News in an interview. "But for me, it's obvious [they are being protected], there are no other reasons,"

"I decided to resort to the hunger-striking option until they are arrested because all my other efforts were in vain. I went through all the possible channels before starting the hunger strike," she said.

Kenawy said she has been contacted by the government, but does not believe their promises.

"A week ago, officials from the Interior Ministry contacted me to offer condolences and assure me that the men will be captured, denying they are being protected," she said. "But I'm standing firm; mere calls to soothe my anger are not enough."

At this point of the interview, a butterfly buzzed persistently around Kenawy's head.

"It's Youssef," she laughed, pointing to it.

PHOTO: An Egyptian fan of Al-Ahly football club fires celebratory shots in the air and lights a flare as club supporters celebrate outside its headquarters in Cairo, Jan. 26, 2013. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
An Egyptian fan of Al-Ahly football club fires celebratory shots in the air and lights a flare as club supporters celebrate outside its headquarters in Cairo, Jan. 26, 2013.

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Celebratory gunfire is a common practice at weddings in southern Egypt and rural parts of the country, but has now spread to more urban areas such as the capital.

Kenawy said that while she is striving to bring justice to her son, she also has her eyes set on the bigger picture.

"Youssef's death is a message from God, everything happens for a reason. He was a victim and I'm required to bring his right and the rights of many other people," she added.

"There are many similar incidents which are not getting the same attention. I have a role to raise awareness and call for the rule of law, so that many people could be deterred."

PHOTO:Marwa Kenawys 13-year-old son Youssef El-Arabi was killed by celebratory gunfire in Cairo two years ago. Hatem Maher/ABC News
PHOTO:Marwa Kenawy's 13-year-old son Youssef El-Arabi was killed by celebratory gunfire in Cairo two years ago.

"Last February, I launched a campaign titled 'No for firing gunshots at weddings.' I printed handbooks bearing Youssef's picture on the front and words to raise awareness at the back. I started to sell them and use the profits to hold workshops for pupils at schools to polish their skills, especially in rural areas."

When asked about her plans for the future, Kenawy insisted there was no option that she could suspend her hunger strike before the suspects are brought to justice.

"Promises made are only words, what I only need now is action," she said.