Youths with disabilities cook at a center in Cairo, Egypt, run by SETI (Support, Education, Training for Inclusion), a unit of the Catholic charity Caritas. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Time to Embrace Those with Mental Disabilities

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, August 26

Last week, in one of the Eastern provinces of our country, a young mentally disabled man entered a local barbershop, where he was met with slurs, insults and physical violence. The patrons and the shop owner took turns beating and slapping the man, not because they had any reason to, but because they wanted to increase their delight by abusing a helpless man. Unfortunately, such events are not new. What is new, however, is that the local community rose up against what happened, and the security services and legal authorities took swift action against the attackers. The culprits tried to evade responsibility by claiming that they were simply joking and accused the young man of stealing things from the shop. Thankfully, the public prosecutor emphasized that the authorities will not tolerate behavior that undermines human dignity. It’s time that we, as a society, admit that the mentally disabled – and those with special needs, more broadly – have been collectively humiliated by us and treated as people who, at best, deserve our charity. Many of these people have been exploited opportunistically and inhumanely. Others have been treated as if they are animals, living in households that do not want them to be seen in public. The founder and editor-in-chief of the Al-Moayyed newspaper, Ali Youssef, the most famous Egyptian and Arab journalist at the beginning of the twentieth century, had a sole son, Ali, who was mentally handicapped, so he hated him and moved away from him and his mother. A few years ago, a couple tried to get rid of their child, who was born mentally disabled, by leaving him next to a garbage bin near Nasr City. The child was discovered and returned to them, but the young couple seemed confused, anxious and worried about the fate and life of their baby and the expensive treatments he will need. This pushed them to take such a desperate step. Until recently, public schools refused to admit mentally-disabled children. Just a handful of private schools accepted them, but only after the horrific financial extortion of their parents. This defective cultural heritage must be changed, and it must be completely abolished. The first step in the right direction has luckily been taken by President [Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi, who has shown personal interest in this cause and called to end the alienation of these individuals. We must embrace the mentally challenged back into mainstream Egyptian society. They are part of us. – Helmi al-Namnam (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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