Egyptian protesters hold up images of Khaled Said, who was found dead in Alexandria in June after posting an internet video apparently showing illicit police activity. Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
The Mahmoudia canal wends its way through some of Alexandria’s poorest quarters before eventually reaching the middle-class suburb of Somoha, where elegant blocks of flats abut the water’s edge and a rickety old footbridge connects one bank to the other.
It was here that 19-year-old Ahmed Shaaban’s body was found floating among the reeds, battered and bruised. The police say he drowned himself deliberately, though it is difficult to see how – the channel is so shallow it barely reaches one’s knees. A few days later, Shaaban’s uncle stood in front of a local journalist’s video camera and addressed Egypt‘s leader, Hosni Mubarak, directly. “You are at war with your own people,” he said softly. “Your gang is running loose killing citizens, and all you care about is the presidential chair.”
Something is rotten at the heart of Alexandria, one of the great metropolises of the ancient world and Egypt’s modern gateway to the Mediterranean. The country goes to the polls today to elect a new parliament in a ballot widely condemned by human rights groups as being blatantly rigged in favour of Mubarak’s ruling NDP party, and which has been marred by violent clashes on the street between government security services and opposition supporters.