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Sally Majdi Zahran: Will remain in the collective memory of the Arab people

"Every woman did something…no one stood still" The active presence of women in the popular Egyptian revolution was quite prominent. Since the first moment of its eruption, we saw young women cry out and chant in the name of the revolution, hanging the slogans on their chests. We saw women from different age groups participating in demonstrations loudly and forcefully. We heard about women martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the victory of the revolution. For all martyrs, men and women, so that they do not to turn into forgotten numbers, Al Rowat Institute for Studies and Research initiated a project that aims at documenting the lives of the martyrs of the popular Egyptian revolution launched in January 25, 2011.  

The name of Sally Majdi Zahran was heard repeatedly in the media, and her photograph was centered in the poster that embraced the martyrs of the revolution. It was said that she was attacked by ¨thugs¨ on her way to Al-Tahrir Square where she was beaten with sticks on her head, which caused bleeding in the brain. Other people said she committed suicide and died in Sohaj, her hometown. Two photographs were published for Sally, one with a veil, and the other without. Above her photo with a veil, there was a sentence attributed to her mother, asking to publish Sally's photograph wearing the veil. It was also said that her photo was removed and replaced in the sit-in organized by the Islamists at the Trade Unions Association in Amman, while celebrating the victory of the Egyptian revolution. The contradicting stories required verification with an in-depth research using oral history approach. The approach will compare the various narratives to confirm or deny what was published about the circumstances of Sally's martyrdom and sheds the light on her political participation.
Through the interviews conducted with her friends and colleagues by the researcher Nihal Naser Al-Din from Al Rowat Institute, in addition to following up on the testimonies heard, seen and published by her parents and relatives; I managed to examine her life and identify the features of her personality, and got to know her views and tendencies.

Sally Zahran was born on October 16, 1987, and died as a martyr on January 28, 2011. When her father went to work as a professor at the University of Sohaj, she joined the same university to study English literature, completed her third year there, and then decided to move to Cairo to realize her ambitions. She worked as an assistant clothes designer in a documentary film.

She was described as "hard-working…popular…very active and responsible …"She decided to detach herself from her family…this issue was not debatable…she was determined not to live in Upper Egypt. She was a rebel.

"She had ambitions of her own…she wanted to do whatever she thought of…she lived her own revolution since a very early age…a suppressed revolution…her mother lived with her in Cairo for a while, then returned to Sohaj…her parents are liberals…her father died…her mother is a great woman…they are very decent people…it does not matter if Sally had certain affiliations or not…she was strong…equal to hundred men…she did not allow anyone to take advantage of her." She loved people and enjoyed life, accepted the opinion of the other…non-fanatic, intellectual and very ambitious.

She chose to take off the veil, which was imposed on her in Upper Egypt. "She wore the veil there…like most girls…not as a commitment, only because of customs and traditions."

While the fanatics affirmed that they published her photo with the veil according to her mother's wish, her photo was seen without the veil in two frames behind her veiled mother on OTV channel in a program called "Our country in Egyptian dialect" on February 24, 2011.

In Cairo, Sally found herself with friends who have common tendencies and aspire to change the world. She joined" Cairo Choir Complaints", a show that was ceased by the State Security Intelligence after the first presentation. This happened before January 25. "We have people with us, not necessarily artists…may be one or two artists among them…we presented the complaints of the people…they talked about the wheat we export, the gas… the fake advertisements…art has a powerful function…it alerts people and wakes them up…the State Security fears the voices that shake their chairs."
The following are the words she loved and repeated with her colleagues:

"Do not ever say our gas is natural or "normal" …they will then say you are ignorant;
Our gas is renamed "normalization" gas…we sell it at a loss with no regrets…
Workers are not heard…, the factory was sold; …
The wheat is American and the gas is exported…"

"She always said: "I will work"…she had future plans…death was not among them…a vivid girl…she doesn't walk on earth…some people did not believe she is dead…they say she is working. This is the answer to the people who say she committed suicide…anyone who saw Sally once, will not believe that."

She hesitated between staying in Cairo and returning to Sohaj. On January 10, she decided to go back to her hometown to live with her family and continue her education.

When the revolution started on January 25th, she felt it was her revolution; and decided to participate in the Friday of Rage in Sohaj. In a television interview, her mother said:" she did not eat for two days. She said: "let me do something for my country…not for me, for my country…for my brothers and sisters"…I let her go…the security forces sprayed water and used tear gas bombs…she came home coughing…her face was pale…she was dying…when I told her she did her duty and that's enough…she answered in anger: if you do not allow me to go and join the demonstrators, I will go down from the balcony…no one can stand in my way…open the door for me. Then she felt dizzy…fell down and died on the spot."

Sally did not eat since January 26, when she joined the demonstrations in the streets; the first time, her mother could not prevent her. She returned home with a pale face. She inhaled the smoke of the tear gas bombs and her clothes were wet following the spraying of protesters with water jets.

When her mother closed the door, trying to prevent her from demonstrating once again, Sally threatened to descend from the balcony. She was serious; she went to participate in protecting the Egyptian soil…the soil that embraced her as a martyr.

Sally was not involved in politics in the traditional sense, but she breathed politics like the rest of the Egyptians. "Most of us are not politicians or politicized…we have political opinions…we used to share in the protests of 6 April movement…we are active on Face Book…the revolution against the regime was born and lives with us…the regime has silenced us… it made us do things contrary to our nature…the revolution has been living in us for a long time … nobody knows anything about it."


When the voices of millions shouted calling for the overthrow of the regime, Sally shouted with them…shouted to get rid of the political and patriarchal system once and forever. The artist Mustafa Al-Tuni considered her an Egyptian Joan of Arc. The space agency (NASA) put her name on one of its vehicles destined for Mars, and Ramallah Municipality gave her name to a street in the city. Sally Majdi Zahran is a freedom martyr who will be remembered by the Palestinian people and all peoples who are fighting for their freedom. If the earth was narrow for your dream, the spacious sky will be vast enough to hold your dream and the dreams of the Arab people in embracing freedom and eliminating all forms of tyranny.