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Egyptians are dying to live as suicide rates soar

An Egyptian protester is arrested by Egyptian riot police after taking part in a small protest prior to the planned trial of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the Cairo Police Academy on 8 January 2014 in Cairo, Egypt. [Ed Giles/Getty Images]
An Egyptian protester is arrested by Egyptian riot police after taking part in a small protest prior to the planned trial of deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the Cairo Police Academy on 8 January 2014 in Cairo, Egypt. [Ed Giles/Getty Images]

Two weeks ago, a fourth-year dentist student in Egypt committed suicide after becoming severely depressed because her family were putting pressure on her not to leave the house.

Egypt's Public Prosecution moved quickly to stop the video circulating on social media, promising the sharp hand of the law for anyone who continued to share it.

Within hours of her death, a young man threatened to commit suicide in Dakahlia Governorate because of psychological pressure being put on him by his family.

A 60-year-old man threw himself at a metro and in August alone, nine students committed suicide or attempted suicide after being unhappy with their exam results.

A couple of weeks ago, the executive director of the Arab Foundation for Human Rights told Al-Quds that the rate of suicide in Egypt is between 30 and 35 people a month. So far this year, more than 200 people have committed suicide.

Rights groups say the deteriorating economic and political situation and marital and family disputes, which are often driven by money worries, are the root causes. Already in Egypt two thirds of the population live below the poverty line whilst the continuous rollout of austerity policies coupled with deeply rooted corruption has hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

HRW: UNDP should avoid whitewashing Egypt's human rights record

This alarming rise in suicides is also taking place inside Egypt's prisons, a phenomenon brought to light by the political activists known as Mocha and Oxygen who tried to commit suicide in August, the former after he was denied a family visit.

The issue became even more urgent after the prominent Egyptian activist Alaa Abdelfattah asked his mother to receive condolences for him, after his mental health deteriorated as a result of being held in pretrial detention for two years.

As an indication of how bad things have become, in March a child prisoner in Sinai, Abdullah Boumediene, who was just 12 years old when he was arrested, swallowed a large amount of sleeping pills and details emerged of how he had been forcibly disappeared and tortured in jail.

Despite the few incidents that are reported on, suicide attempts are widespread in prison and have increased in recent months, though they are only talked about when they are carried out by famous personalities, reported Al Jazeera Arabic.

Sisi's Prisons - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Egypt Sisi's Prisons – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

For example, in mid-August, the Egyptian Network for Human Rights said on Facebook that several inmates at the maximum-security Scorpion jail had attempted suicide due to continuous restrictions and the prohibition of time to exercise, however the exact number is not known because authorities deny it took place.

According to the same Al Jazeera report, many female detainees are suicidal, particularly those on long sentences, who are losing hope, feel lonely, isolated and depressed. These feelings are expounded by the fact that Egyptian authorities have severely restricted prison visits as a punitive measure against the opposition.

Likewise, it's not possible to know how many Egyptians outside of prison have attempted or committed suicide due to the stigma attached, particularly from a religious point of view, and the authorities' history of keeping unfavourable statistics out of the public realm.

Preventing suicide: How can family, friends, governments help?

Instead of dealing seriously with the increase in suicide attempts, for example by allowing families to visit their loved ones, Egyptian authorities have responded by releasing a new code of ethics on how the media should report on suicides in a further attempt to control the narrative.

Suicide, or attempted suicide, should not be used to increase viewership, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation said, and comments or statements should not be released without their permission.

In a move that echoes what happened during the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis when authorities repressed journalists reporting on the rise in cases, it's likely anyone in Egypt reporting on the issue of suicides will suffer harassment at the hands of security forces.

Until the political and economic factors causing these suicides to rise, change, they are likely to continue. For now, Egyptians will continue to die just so that they can live.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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