Having been an avid protester myself since the start of Egypt’s January 25 revolution, it has become very difficult for me to resent a protest. The people’s right to assemble, which has always been oppressed in this part of the world, is engraved in my mind as a basic human right.
However, on Tuesday of last week, as some Islamists started gathering outside the US Embassy in Cairo in protest of a movie insulting Islam and Prophet Mohammad, the first question that popped to my mind was, “Why are they protesting outside the US Embassy? What do they think the US can do?”
I still respected their right to protest as long as it was peaceful, but I had a bad feeling.
I appeared on television in Egypt that evening on a program about social media. And as things were starting to get a bit violent, I spoke of, and simultaneously tweeted about, how pointless these protests were and how they only served to reinforce the negative image of Islam the film makers claim it to have. The following morning I woke up to horrible news: My friend Chris Stevens was killed in an attack in Libya, along with three other US Consulate officials.
I knew Chris when he was a junior officer at the US Embassy in Cairo in the early to mid-nineties. He had come to Cairo, driving his Hyundai, from Saudi Arabia where he held his previous post. And I was impressed. I then learned that he had driven his Hyundai to Saudi Arabia from Seoul, South Korea. And I was extremely impressed. Indeed, Chris was a man who loved life and lived it to the fullest. He was genuine, caring, down to earth, true to himself, his job, and the people around him. He just wanted to see people happy. We often hung out during his time in Egypt as a group of five or six friends. We went to movies, had dinners, took feluccas on the Nile, sometimes played tennis, and always shared a good laugh. I have fond memories of Chris’ time in Egypt.
We had remained in touch for a while after he left Egypt, and then life took its normal turns and I had not heard of him for a while. In July of last year, I found a Facebook friend request and a message in my Facebook inbox from Chris. It read, “Hi Rasha –– Just saw you on Al Jazeera English channel talking about doctored photos of Mubarak. What a nice surprise. You look great, and you have the same great sense of humor. I'm next door in Benghazi, doing my usual thing. Hope all's well with you –– take care, Chris.”
I was very happy to get back in touch with him. We exchanged a few messages through Facebook, and I asked him to take care of himself given how volatile the situation was in Libya. Little did I or he know that he would survive all the fighting, and after helping Libyans get rid of a long-established dictator, he would be killed in an ignorant attack by some rebel without a cause.
I’m not sure what these terrorists are thinking. How would killing a man who was instrumental to the success of the Libyan revolution help redeem Islam or the image of Prophet Mohamed? Would the Prophet have liked that if he were alive? I’m just speechless at the ignorance of some people, who, in an attempt to object to someone who claims their religion is violent, goes on to kill four innocent men.
My sincere condolences to the American people for the humongous loss of Ambassador Stevens, and my condolences to Chris’ family and friends and to myself for having lost our friend, Chris Stevens.
Rasha Abdulla, Ph.D., is associate professor and former chair of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Cairo.