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Rayan Oram’s death brought us all to life

February 7, 2022 at 12:51 pm

People watch as Moroccan emergency services teams work on the rescue of five-year-old boy Rayan from a well shaft he fell into on February 1, in the remote village of Ighrane in the rural northern province of Chefchaouen on 5 February 2022. [FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images]

Just a few minutes lapsed between the news that Rayan Oram had been rescued from the dark Moroccan well into which he had fallen, and the news that he had died. It was a short but extremely heavy time.

For five days, along with millions of other people I followed the minute by minute developments in the attempts to rescue the five-year-old boy, as he clung to life with neither food nor water to ease his distress. His mother was unable to hold and comfort him. For five days, I lived in darkness and anxiety while glancing at my own young children, and wondered how Rayan’s parents must be feeling.

The youngster’s death brought us all to life; his fall into the well had taught us a lesson, and he united us to pray for him day and night. We held on to a glimmer of hope that he would be rescued, and we looked forward to seeing him crying in his mother’s arms. We dreamt together, despite our different languages, religions and cultures as Rayan’s predicament united us in hope, albeit faint, for his rescue.

Everyone has been told at one time or another that there is light at the end of every dark tunnel, and that the darkest part of the night comes just before dawn. But how did this five-year-old feel seeing nothing but darkness for five days? How much fear and pain did his little mind and body go through? How many times did he scream, not knowing if anyone could hear him? How many times did he call for his mother in vain? These are agonising questions. Our hearts wept for him, and we were powerless to help. Now whatever we say or write feels totally inadequate.

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The Arab people have also fallen into a metaphorical well of oppression, tyranny and brutality, drowned by their rulers, kings and presidents. The oppressors do not care who among their citizens falls and suffers, unless there is a cynical photo opportunity if and when they survive and get out of their hell hole.

In Morocco, Rayan Oram died after his dream of being rescued was fulfilled. The little boy suffered and persevered, holding on to life in the hope of breathing in the air of freedom. However, his dream was ended, killing the hope and ending the story. That echoes what happened to an entire Arab generation a decade ago.

We fell into the well of long-term corrupt dictatorships, so we rose up and held on to our dream and persevered. We told ourselves that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We were united, as Rayan united us in his ordeal, and we grasped the one chance of survival and the success of the Arab Spring revolutions. Then, once we started to breathe in the air of freedom, joyful in our survival and victory, the dream ended and life was turned upside down.

Rayan’s is a recurring story: remember Aylan, the three-year-old Syrian child who drowned and was washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015? And the Egyptian child who shouted at the top of his voice, “Wake up, Mama” on the day that his mother was killed by the military in the Rabaa Al-Adawiya massacre in Cairo? Rayan’s story brings to mind the image of 12-year-old Palestinian boy Muhammad Al-Durrah, who was killed by Israeli bullets as he cowered in his father’s arms, and the images of the Yemeni children killed after the UAE bombed their school in Yemen. Remember also the thousands of Syrian children dying in bleak refugee camps, and refugee children drowning in the freezing waters of the English Channel while trying to reach safety. They are all children, and all are victims of the inequality and injustice in this world.

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Murder, burning, drowning, violations, neglect, poor services, harassment, rape and kidnapping are all crimes committed against children in this hate-filled world. Nothing changes with each crime committed. All we see are condemnations and hashtags on social media.

I believe that Rayan is in a much better place now. May he rest in the Eternal Garden. And may God grant his mother and father patience.

I swear that his death has wounded our hearts; a wound that will not heal anytime soon. We will remember you, Rayan, and recount your steadfastness for five long and cold days. We now wonder whether you would have been able to survive the hypocrisy and lies in the Arab world, filled as it is with oppression and tyranny. Let us learn from all such incidents so that we may banish the dictators and make the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 06 February 2022

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