Families of the MS804 victims, from waiting to mourning

In the Delta village of Meet Badr Halawa, the imam of the mosque utters four names. Haitham Dedah, Donia Haytham Dedah, Khaled Allam and Khaled Tantawy were among the passengers killed from the EgyptAir MS804 flight that went missing en route from Paris to Cairo in the early hours of Thursday.

Debris from the flight was found on Friday in the deep waters of the Mediterranean, according to the Egyptian Armed Forces’ search and rescue operations and all 66 people on board are presumed to have been killed in the crash.

Haitham Dedah, a 30-year-old architect who had been living in France for 14 years, was travelling home with his 18-month-old daughter, Donia. He was on his way to surprise his parents with the news that his Moroccan wife was pregnant. Donia was to stay with her grandparents until her mother gave birth this month and joining them in the village with another four-year-old sister who was left in Paris with her mother to finish the school year. Donia’s mother was unable to travel to attend the funeral due to the late stage of her pregnancy. 

Haitham was keen on preserving the welfare of both his family in Paris and his parents in Meet Abu Halawa.

“If you are an Egyptian and you went to France and he didn’t know you, Haitham would have taken you to his home and served you” Hassan Shadad, Haitham’s cousin, tells Mada Masr at the funeral. “No one was as good as he was in the whole village. Hassan describes his cousin as “generous, responsible and good to his parents.”

The funeral is also being held for Khaled Allam, a 40-year-old relative and neighbor of the Dedah family and Khaled Tantawy, a 30-year-old engineer.

At the funeral, where the prayers for the departed were being performed, relatives with red teary eyes forcibly drew smiles to welcome strangers coming to present their condolences. The streets were empty from the usual playfulness of the village children. The tuktuk drivers refrained from their usual noise and arguments out of respect to the deep grief of the village.

“They were the best of what three different families from the village had,” the mourners muttered over and over. They gathered in one funeral as though they were the members of one family and as though the village had become one house that opened its doors to mourners from near and far.

The village is home to several migrant workers who found work opportunities in Paris throughout the years in the fields of building and selling vegetables. It became customary for most households to send one of their sons once they finish their education — a collective psychology and survival mechanism in the face of economic and social marginalization. Many have settled in France for decades and formed a community there that keeps coming back and forth to the modest village, opening it up to material and immaterial opportunities that neither Cairo nor Egypt offered.

Haitham’s parents arrived in shock to welcome the mourners. The father could barely stand up, while the mother appeared to be in denial, holding on to the early statements of Egyptian officials when they said the plane continues to be missing.

Hassan learnt about his cousin’s death on Facebook. “I was shocked when I heard about his death. No one from the family told me. I discovered the news by accident from Facebook when I was reading friends’ posts. I was surprised to find a picture of my cousin and his daughter, alongside an obituary, in one of the posts,” Hassan says.

He recounted the hours of waiting once the plane was reported missing as relatives bounced between the French President’s early statements on Thursday that the plane had crashed, followed by those of the Egyptian civil aviation minister, saying that the plane was still missing.

In Cairo, Haitham’s brother, Ahmed Dedah, was waiting at a nearby airport hotel with the rest of victims’ families for news. There, EgyptAir hosted them and provided them with updates. Some had lost patience with contradictory news, especially when the company announced the finding of debris, then took back the news on Thursday evening and then the Armed Forces announced again that debris was found on Friday. 


Mohamed al-Shadad, a surgeon in Tanta University and a relative of Haitham, imagines how Haitham must have hugged his daughter Donia, the moment he felt the danger. “I try to stop myself visualizing the last moments of his life and I keep failing. He must have been so frightened,” he says, wondering if he has lost his life while the plane was falling from the sky or whether he had to live through more moments of fear when the plane hit the cold and dark waters of the Mediterranean in the early hours of the morning.

Wael Diab, one of the relatives of Mohamed Diab, 34, a security personnel on the flight, says that the early hours since they knew that the plane went missing were hard. “Every time we asked an official, they would tell us they know nothing. We got very anxious, especially that European media were confirming the crash of the plane,” he tells Mada Masr. 

Mohamed’s mother was sitting at the airport, immobile, and fixated on a TV screen broadcasting the news. His father hadn’t seen his son for four years because he was working in Saudi Arabia. He was planning a reunion with him next month to attend his daughter’s wedding, but now is back to attend his son’s funeral.

The funeral is slated for Sunday, where Diab’s relatives, like all the relatives of the crash’s 66 victims, will have to make do without a body.