Egyptian dictatorship causing spike in youth suicide
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, right, meets with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. | Jason DeCrow/AP

The increasing suicide among youth is one of the fatal consequences of the 2013 military coup in Egypt. This has become a nightmare to the regime fearing that it could cause revolution that topples it.

Neither the regime nor Egyptians have forgotten that in order to show his opposition to injustice, oppression and poverty, the Tunisian citizen “Tariq Bouazizi” committed suicide in December, 2010 igniting the revolution that overthrew the authoritarian regime of “Zine El-Abidine bin Ali,” and resulting in the Arab Spring that extended to other countries still struggling for freedom and justice, including Egypt.

Therefore, the military coup regime in Egypt has been trying to shirk its responsibility for the spike in suicide. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed to Egypt as the Arab country with the highest suicide rate in 2016, the regime has been trivializing the increasing suicide rates saying that it is normal compared to the size of the population, blaming mental illnesses and individual problems including family difficulties.  The regime tries to deliver this message to the public through pro-regime media, religious figures, psychologists, and sociologists.

Through his talk show “The Story,” on December 2, 2019, pro-regime media “Amr Adeeb” interviewed “Dr. Soheir Lotfi,” Professor of Sociology, and former director of the Egyptian National Center for Social and Criminal Research, to analyze the increasing suicide in Egypt.

Lotfi said that suicide is caused by mental diseases, psychological issues, and social problems. She added that it is the responsibility of the individual, family and society. She also denied the association of suicide with poverty or wealth. This raises questions about the methodology and credibility of Dr. Lotfi’s analysis of suicide in Egypt, and whether or not this is what a sociologist should be telling us.

In fact, Dr. Lotfi’s analysis doesn’t correspond with the objectively arrived-upon analysis by most contemporary sociologists who connect directly the relationship between poverty and suicide.

For example, Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldoun sees that “injustice leads to the ruin of urbanism.” He explains that injustice is a factor in the devastation of human beings, societies, states, and homelands. Also, Emile Durkheim says that suicide is caused by something wrong with the system, a force that exceeds the capabilities of the individual, and that oppressive and repressive regimes are increasingly pushing people to commit suicide.

In an interview with the Anadolu News Agency” in December 2014, Dr. Azza Kuraiem, Professor of Sociology at the Egyptian National Center for Social and Criminal Research, confirmed that severe suffering, economic and social pressures, and the absence of justice are among the most important causes of suicide.

Institutionally, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has documented nine suicides in Egypt in January, 2019, all because of poverty. Also, the Arab Foundation for Civil Society Support and Human Rights issued a report on suicide in Egypt in June, 2019. This report confirms that the low economic level is one of the main causes of suicide.

So, how can the contradiction between Dr. Lotfi’s analysis and that of other sociologists can be explained?

Sociology students know that individual behavior and social phenomenon cannot be understood and analyzed apart from surrounding circumstances including political, economic and cultural factors.

Dr. Lotfi’s talk about social and psychological problems as motives for suicide without analyzing the surrounding causes of these issues amounts to falsification. Ignoring the role of the ruling regime in creating a stressful environment and driving conditions for suicide is a form of political hypocrisy, amounting to misuse of science in service to the regime.

Dr. Lotfi was specifically chosen for such justifications because especially her own professional history is not free from injustice, oppression, and corruption. When she headed the National Center for Social and Criminal Research, she deleted the name of an applicant for a research assistant position at the center despite his having passed all the exams without a competitor. She replaced him with another person favored by a government minister at the time. Violating professionalism, legal and ethical standards, she denied an applicant a position he deserved.

Since Dr. Lotfi intentionally violated the rights of that person in a manner indifferent to the consequences,  it is no surprise that she puts forward positions on the issue of suicide without regard to the negative consequences for her country.

Another example of Lotfi’s hypocrisy was her blaming of families for the failure of Education Minister Tarek Shawqi’s attempt to implement the tablet system. Accusing families of responsibility for the failure of that attempt, she told Masress News on November 29, 2018 that “refusal of reform processes is in the genes of Egyptian families.”

While she did not address the other challenges, including the educational environment, teacher training, and the lack of fast internet networks that really were to blame she chose instead to find that there was something inherently wrong with the Egyptian people themselves.

Again, she could care less about the consequences which included later use of her excuses by the education minister which triggered massive student protests in May, 2019.

The ruling regime’s responsibility for the high rates of suicide in Egypt since the 2013 military coup can’t be ignored. Its irrational economic policies have led to high rates of poverty, unemployment and the inability to satisfy the basic needs of citizens.

Also, its security policies of brutal force and repression, have led to the perpetuation of despair, frustration, and loss of desire to live, thus increasing suicides.

Suicide treatment requires development of an understanding that it is not the best way to escape from compelling life conditions. Working collectively to eliminate those conditions by ousting the regime that creates them is a far better course to take.  It is  a course of action that reflects the knowledge that people’s lives are more valuable than a regime that weakens them by poverty, illiteracy and illness and frustrates them with unemployment, low incomes, high cost of living, and sharp class differentiation. The regime kills them with security services’ bullets at home and in the streets, kills them with torture and medical neglect in police stations and prisons, and kills them with unfair and illegal execution sentences.

There is still a hope that people will develop organizational and kinetic capabilities, carry out the second wave of the January 2011 revolution, oust the military ruling regime, and replace it with a democratic civil regime that guarantees freedom, social justice and human dignity. Then, suicide in Egypt is likely to disappear, or at least the rates will decrease significantly.


Aboulfotouh Kandil
Aboulfotouh Kandil

Aboulfotouh Kandil is a freelance writer on socio-political issues and human rights with a main focus on the Middle East.