The Murder of Fr. Samaan Shehata: Between Public Spectacle and “Lone Wolf” Narratives

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Wed, 2017-11-15
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On November 19, Christians of al-Fashn in the governorate of Beni Suef [Banī Swayf] will gather for the 40th day anniversary of Father Samaan Shehata [Samʿān Shiḥāta]’s death. This is a custom widely observed by Muslims and Christians alike, probably dating back to pharaonic days. In light of this occasion, we have prepared an in-depth report on the incident that led to Fr. Shehata’s murder, and the wider question of media coverage and priest visibility in Egyptian public spaces. 

On October 12, 2017, Father Samaan Shehata headed to Cairo from his native Beni Suef, accompanied byfellow priest Beemin Muftaah [Bīmin Muftāḥ]. The 45-year-old church-leader had travelled to the metropolis to collect donations for his impoverished parish near the Upper Egyptian city of al-Fashn in the governorate of Beni Suef.


Unbeknownst to Fr. Shehata, however, this noble endeavor would ultimately bring with it the violent and widely publicized end to his life.


One of four siblings, Fr. Shehata was a widely revered leader in his local community of Izbit Guirgis [ʿIzbit Jirjis], a village approximately 60 kilometers south of Beni Suef. Fr. Shehataleaves behind a wife, Mariam [Maryam], and three children: two sons by the names of Kyrollos [Kīrullus] and Mina [Mīnā], and the youngest, a daughter named Karmina [Karmīna].

Fr. Samaan Shehata (Egypt Independent)


In a conversation with Fr.  Yu’annas [Yū’ānis], Priest of Qufada [Qufāda] and a longtime acquaintance of Fr. Shehata, Fr. Yu’annas described the late church-leader to me as “a very kind soul, full of joy. An incredibly courteous man. Not once did a member of his community celebrate or mourn an event in their lives, without Fr. Shehata rushing to their side,” the priest recalled fondly. 


In this report, we survey the principal narratives emerging from domestic media coverage of Fr. Shehata’s murder, noting two key trends. On the one hand, it is crucial to address the public spectacle dimension of this attack, a unique feature of this case. The entire incident was captured on CCTV footage, providing the general public with surprisingly clear documentation of the precise moment when the respected church leader was fatally attacked. (The attached link features graphic footage, viewer discretion is advised). On the other hand, we consider the impact of the “lone wolf” narrative, which features prominently in local media coverage of the incident. In an effort to detract attention away from the sectarian dimensions underscoring this incident, multiple local media outlets advanced the unconfirmed narrative of the perpetrator’s mental illness. In so doing, local media identified the perpetrator as a “lone wolf,” and the incident as a whole as an anomaly, falling beyond the realms of the recent trend of anti-Christian incidents in Egypt, which include a series of horrific church bombings.


Coupled with this media critique, this report also features an interview with Fr. Yu’annas in an effort to further contextualize this incident. Ultimately, the report calls for a more nuanced approach when covering such sensitive incidents within Egypt’s complex sociopolitical context.


For the full report, please click here. To offer financial support for Fr. Shehata’s family, please click here.



Salma Khamis, Database Editor at the Arab-West Report


November 15, 2017