Batouty clan stands united

Gamil Al Batouty's family say the media might as well have killed the co-pilot
From left to right: Aya, Sally and her husband, Gamil, Karim

Family and friends of Gamil Al Batouty, a co-pilot on EgyptAir Flight 990, have painted a picture of a happy, well-respected family man who had every reason to live.

The Egyptian press has reacted angrily to latest allegations in the western press suggesting that Batouty deliberately crashed EgyptAir Flight 990 on 31 October that killed all 217 people aboard. The London-based Sunday Times in its 21 November edition ran a story under the banner "EgyptAir pilot was 'traumatised by war'" suggesting that new evidence strengthened the allegations against the pilot, and that the airline consequently was under serious threat of a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit by relatives of the passengers killed in the crash.

The paper quoted an unnamed source, alleged to be a friend of Batouty's, as saying that pilot had suffered depression after the loss of much of his fighter squadron in the 1973 war. It did not give any further specifics about the incident.

"The British press joins the venemous American campaign against Egypt," the liberal daily Al Wafd wrote on 23 November, reprinting the Sunday Times' allegations.

Family and friends of Batouty contacted by the Cairo Times confirmed that he served during in the 1967 and 1973 war, but did not mention traumas that he might have suffered as a result.

"First they said he was a fundamentalist; we've heard he was married to someone else; another rumor has it that he was gambling in Las Vegas," said Walid Al Batouty, the nephew of the deceased. In addition to the war allegations, the international media has reported that the co-pilot was feeling depressed either because of his upcoming retirement, because he never made the rank of full captain, and that he was in despair over his daughter Aya's severe affliction with lupus.

"These accusations are damaging my dad's reputation," said Gamil's son Karim Al Batouty, 21, a commerce student at Ain Shams University. "Whoever has been making these suggestions has been trying to work different angles. We've proved all these accusations false," said Karim. "We've covered every possibility--and now they don't have anything more to say, and they've retracted what they said before."

As for the daughter, Aya, Karim said that she is "80 percent cured".

The Batoutys take pride in their social position and wealth, which they feel rules out any notion that Gamil may have committed suicide for financial reasons. "This guy had a retirement home prepared," said nephew Walid. The two-storey villa, located in 10th of Ramadan City, has 10 bedrooms, he said. Gamil had also invested in one quarter of a Nasr City plantation project, which his son claims began to turn a profit after one month.

The family said that Gamil's father was a long-time mayor of Mansoura, implying that he owned considerable tracts of land in the area. "Batouty is a big name," Karim said. The son recalls a large dinner hosted by his grandfather in Mansoura and attended by then-officer Mohammed Hosni Mubarak and other air force brass.

Mubarak, in fact, instructed Gamil Al Batouty at the air force academy in the 1960s, the family said. "My father graduated second or third in his class," said Karim. Gamil went on to serve in the air force from 1967 to 1973. After the 1973 war, he served as an aviation instructor for five years, before transferring to EgyptAir.

A video shot by Walid in the cockpit of a 767 on a Cairo-New York flight showed his uncle executing a perfect landing, then shaking hands with the other pilots as they repeatedly say to each other "Allah yunawwar"(literally "God enlightens").

Walid has lashed out in particular against speculation that his uncle could have been a religious extremist. "He loved the United States," the nephew said. "If you wanted to go shopping in New York, he was the man to speak to, because he knew all the stores."

Walid himself, though Muslim, used to occasionally attend Catholic church services with an American family. His wife, as Maadi's official Santa Claus, has distributed gifts to children at Christmastime.

The family at some point adopted Donald Duck ("Batout" in Arabic, from batt, or "duck") as its emblem, and toy Donalds are scattered throughout the houses of the nephew, the uncle, and other members of the extended family.

Family members consistently mentioned Gamil's sense of humor. "Girls that would phone for me would get into conversations with him, thinking he was me," said Karim.

Friends of Karim said that Gamil was a very likeable man who treated them as if they were his own sons. They said he was always ready to give advice to his sons and their friends, particularly encouraging them to participate in sports. "He would often said 'You'll never be a real man unless you take responsibility for your actions,'" recalled Karim's long-time friend Ahmed Hassan Fayed, 21, who knows the whole family well. "He was exactly like my father--I respected him, and I couldn't do wrong in front of him," said Fayed."I cried when I heard he'd died."

The family finds it utterly inconceivable that Gamil would have taken his own life, not to mention the lives 216 others aboard Flight 990. And Karim adds "the whole Egyptian population did not believe it, whether they knew him or not."

The accusations posthumously leveled against him, they say, have made a painful experience all the more painful. The house has been besieged with reporters, one of whom made off with a family photo album, the deceased co-pilot's nephew, Walid Al Batouty, told the Cairo Times. "Every time our daughter turns on the television she sees her father's face," said Batouty's widow, Omaima Al Dahi.

"Aya's comments are torturing us," added Walid. At first no one told the 8-year-old that her father was dead, but she picked up on the black clothes and mournful atmosphere in the house. However, she still doesn't know of the allegations about her father's possible suicide, or understand why his picture is being shown so much on TV.

Members of family say Gamil Al Batouty died a "martyr" (shahid)--a term that explicitly means the deceased died for a worthy cause or on duty--with the additional implication that he is therefore alive in heaven. "At first, when he died, we felt that he was a martyr," said Karim. "But when all the talk about him started, at that point we felt like he'd truly been killed. They killed his reputation and his memory."

Photo from AFP


©Cairo Times