Unsung heroes of the Arab world

Unsung heroes of the Arab world
5 min read
12 July, 2015
In the Arab world, the countless acts of selfless bravery that defy terror and fear and go unsung remind us that human values will prevail in the end.
Thousands across the region battle everyday to save others.

Barely a week goes by without news of some act of unspeakable violence being committed in the Middle East. Suicide bombs, car bombs and barrel bombs, armed gunmen and air strikes have sadly become part of the daily vocabulary of death and destruction inflicted on the people of region.

But news reports don't always present the whole picture. There has indeed been a surge in political violence in recent years which has ravaged much of the Middle East, but we seldom hear the stories of how normal people respond to these attacks.

Across the region numerous acts of selfless heroism carried out by normal people in the face of the violence are seldom noticed. Here we have compiled a few of those stories to highlight that, sometimes, the worst conditions bring out the best in people.

The heroes of Sousse

On 26 June, Tunisian student terrorist Seifeddine Rezgui, aged 23, was on the beach of the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, 10km north of Sousse, disguised as a tourist. As he socialised with hotel guests he hid his assault rifle in a parasol, later bringing it out to gun down holiday-makers on the beach and in the hotel pool.

As tourists scrambled for cover, a group of Tunisian hotel workers tried to lead guests out of the killer’s path. Witnesses reported seeing a group of approximately 30 men attempt to confront the killer when he entered the Imperial Marhaba Hotel, only for Rezgui to throw a stun grenade and scatter them.

     With no regard for their own safety, they yelled and screamed at the man who had just killed 38 people and injured another 39 and drove him away down a side street as they gave chase.

About 15 minutes after the start of attack, Rezgui began making his way to a neighbouring hotel, only to find his path block by staff who formed a human shield to protect the tourists.

“I was shouting: ‘Why are you doing this? Please stop.’ But he was spaced out. He looked like he was on drugs,” recounted Jihed Hassan, one of the men who confronted the killer, in an interview with British press. Mohamed Amin and Ibrahim al-Ghul were also part of the human chain protecting tourists. They told the press that they remembered shouting at Rezgui: “Kill us! Kill us, not these people.”

With no regard for their own safety, the unarmed men yelled and screamed at the man who had just killed 38 people and injured another 39 and drove him away down a side street as they gave chase. As Rezgui fled, 56-year-old builder Munsaf Mayyel was on a rooftop above him. Reaching for the only weapon he could find, he threw a handful of tiles down on to Rezgui, knocking him to the ground, after which he was shot dead by police.

When described as brave, Mayyel told the British TV's Channel 4 News: “All I did was my duty, the duty of any Tunisian, any Muslim”.

The Guardians of Prayer

On 29 May, cousins Muhammad Hassan al-Isa, 18, and Abd al-Jalil al-Arbash, 22, had volunteered to man a security checkpoint during Friday prayers at the Imam Hussein Mosque in Dammam, eastern Saudi Arabia. The checkpoint was set up to search worshippers going into the Mosque after a suicide bomber had carried out an attack on the Imam Ali bin Abi Talib Mosque in Qatif during Friday prayers a week before, killing 22 people.

According to an eyewitness, the young men who had just finished their searches and were outside the mosque chatting when their conversation was interrupted by the appearance of someone in a black abaya and full face cover, the customary dress for women in Saudi Arabia. The women’s section of the mosque was closed that day because of the security threat and the two volunteers explained that women were not being allowed into the mosque.

Caught off-guard, the attacker – a man dressed as a woman – attempted to force his way inside. He was pushed away by Abd al-Jalil, who then tried to drag him towards the car park and away from worshippers, according to Ali, his brother.

But the attacker, later identified as 20-year-old Khaled al-Shimmari, managed to detonate his “suicide belt” – hidden under the abaya – killing both Abd al-Jalil and Muhammad, as well as Abd al Jalil’s brother Muhammad, who had rushed out of the mosque to help, and Abd al-Hadi Salman al-Hashem.

Had it not been for the quick thinking and bravery of the two cousins scores of people would have been killed and injured. Their community has dubbed them the “Guardians of Prayer”.

Angel of the Bridge

On 31 August 2005, thousands of Shias were walking through Baghdad towards the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim, the seventh Shia Imam, to commemorate the anniversary of his martyrdom. Their route took them over the A'imma Bridge across the Tigris, which connects the Sunni district of A'dhamiya with the Shia neighbourhood of Kadhimiya, where the shrine is located.

At the sight of this chaos, a group of Sunnis from A'dhamiya rushed to the aid of the panic-stricken pilgrims. Among them was 19-year-old baker Uthman al-Ubaydi, who helped people get off the bridge then dived into the water to rescue others.

“We saw him save six people from the river”, said his friend Muhannad Ali Hassan. “But on the seventh attempt he didn’t come back to shore.”

Ubayd drowned while trying to save a woman whose movement had become constricted by her abaya. His friends attempted to rescue him but could not get to him in time.

“This wasn't the first time Uthman helped save people. On one of the Ashura pilgrimages, he saw some pilgrims swimming in the Tigris and one of them nearly drowned, so Uthman rushed in and saved him”, said Muhannad.

These and many more examples demonstrate the exceptional bravery and selflessness of people around the region when faced with adversity. They provide much needed hope in these in these dark times that humanity and compassion will prevail.