Sayed Bilal


Alexandria, Egypt: His name was Sayed Bilal, he was thirty years old, married, and his wife was pregnant. He was a practising Muslim, neither an activist nor an agitator. He had a job and did not stand out from the crowd in any way. He lived near the Thahereyya train station. On the evening of 5 January 2011, he received a phone call from state security agents telling him to report to the local police station in the Al Raml District at 10 p.m. to help with an inquiry. ‘Bring a blanket with you,’ he was told. ‘You might need one.’ Sayed Bilal is poor. A simple, unpretentious man, an average citizen. No one is happy to be summoned to the police station in such countries. But since he has nothing to reproach himself for, Sayed takes a taxi with a clear conscience and shows up at the appointed time. No one has come with him. He does not know that his last hour is fast approaching. And how could anyone have known that? Sayed Bilal has no criminal record at all and has never had to deal with his country’s police force. In fact, that is why he has been singled out: he is a perfectly ordinary man.

more from Tahar Ben Jelloun at Granta here.