Updated: Oct 7, 2022
'I never say no when they need me at work,' says Hajj Abd al-Nabil, Egypt's chief executioner who says he's killed over 800.
Ever since he was a little nipper, Egypt’s chief executioner has loved death. He told a local television station how he loves carrying out the death sentence and how, as a boy, he would strangle and drown cats and dogs.
Hajj Abd al-Nabi
In an interview as bizarre as they come, Hajj Abd al-Nabi, a chief warrant officer in the Egyptian police, boasted to Video 7 last month that he has executed as many as 800 criminals of every stripe, calling the death penalty he carries out “the law of Allah.” The interview segment was translated into English this week by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
“In all honesty, I love my work. I just love it! I never say ‘no’ when they need me at work,” al-Nabi, an animated man who gesticulated throughout the interview, told the reporter.
With a hint of a smirk, the gravelly voiced executioner said that he honed the art of his trade as a child, calling himself “a little Satan.”
At the age of 13 or 14, al-Nabi said, “my hobby was to catch a cat, to place a rope around its neck, to strangle it, and throw it into the water. I would get hold of any animal – even dogs. I would strangle these animals and throw them into the water – even dogs.”
“Strangulation was my hobby. When I applied for the job and did well on the tests – proving that I could take the psychological pressure and so on – they said: ‘Congratulations. Now, grow a moustache'” — a sign of masculine maturity, al-Nabi told the camera.
With a slight twinge of sorrow, broken by a grin, the hardened executioner said, “The truth is that my heart is dead, because executing comes from the heart, not the mustache.”
“Only if you have a heart of stone can you be content in this line of work,” he said.
Nonetheless, al-Nabi was content in his line of work: “I love my job very much, and I can’t give it up,” he said emphatically.
“Even when I retire, I will report for duty in emergencies,” he concluded.
The work of God
Decent pay, flexible hours, good benefits package - but being Saudi Arabia's state executioner does have its down side, as Muhammad Saad al-Beshi tells Mahmoud Ahmed
Muhammad Saad al-Beshi
Muhammad Saad al-Beshi beheads up to seven people a day. "It doesn't matter to me: Two, four, 10 - as long as I'm doing God's will, it doesn't matter how many people I execute," says Saudi Arabia's leading executioner.
Al-Beshi began his career at a prison in Taif, where his job was to handcuff and blindfold the prisoners before their execution.
"Because of this background, I developed a desire to be an executioner," he says. When a position became vacant, he applied and was accepted immediately.
His first job was in 1998 in Jeddah. "The criminal was tied and blindfolded. With one stroke of the sword I severed his head. It rolled meters away."
Of course he was nervous, he says - there were a lot of people watching, after all - but now stage fright is a thing of the past.
He says he is calm at work because he is doing God's work. "But there are many people who faint when they witness an execution. I don't know why they come and watch if they don't have the stomach for it. Me? I sleep very well."
Does he think people are afraid of him? "In this country we have a society that understands God's law," he says. "No one is afraid of me. I have a lot of relatives, and many friends at the mosque, and I live a normal life like everyone else. There are no drawbacks for my social life."
Before an execution, none the less, he will visit the family of the victim of the criminal to obtain forgiveness for the man about to die. "I always have that hope, until the very last minute, and I pray to God to give the criminal a new lease of life. I always keep that hope alive."
Al-Beshi will not reveal how much he gets paid per execution, as this is a confidential agreement with the government. But he insists that the reward is not important. "I am very proud to do God's work," he says.
However, he does reveal that a sword costs something in the region of 20,000 Saudi riyals (£3,300). "It's a gift from the government. I look after it and sharpen it once in a while, and I make sure to clean it of bloodstains. It's very sharp. People are amazed how fast it can separate the head from the body."
By the time the victims reach the execution square, they have surrendered themselves to death, he says, though they may hope to be forgiven at the last minute. Indeed, the only conversation that takes place is when he tells the prisoner to say the Shahada, their covenant with Allah.
"Their hearts and minds are taken up with reciting the Shahada. When they get to the execution square, their strength drains away. Then I read the execution order, and at a signal I cut the prisoner's head off."
He has executed a number of women without hesitation. "Despite the fact that I hate violence against women, when it comes to God's will, I have to carry it out."
There is no great difference between the execution of men and women, except that the women wear hijab, and no one is allowed near them except Al-Beshi when the time for execution comes.
When executing women, he has a choice of weapon. "It depends what they ask me to use. Sometimes they ask me to use a sword and sometimes a gun. But most of the time I use the sword," he says.
As an experienced executioner, 42-year-old Al-Beshi is entrusted with the task of training the young. "I successfully trained my son Musaed, 22, as an executioner and he was approved and chosen," he says proudly.
Training focuses on the way to hold the sword and where to hit, and consists mostly of the trainee observing the executioner at work.
But an executioner's work is not all killing; sometimes it can simply be an amputation. "I use a special sharp knife instead of a sword," he explains. "When I cut off a hand, I cut it from the joint. If it is a leg, the authorities specify where it is to be taken off, so I follow that."
Al-Beshi describes himself as a family man. He was married when he became an executioner, and his wife did not object to his choice of profession. "She only asked me to think carefully before committing myself," he recalls. "But I don't think she's afraid of me. I deal with my family with kindness and love. They aren't afraid when I come back from an execution. Sometimes they help me clean my sword."
A father of seven, he is a grandfather already. "My daughter has a son called Haza, and he's my pride and joy," he says. "Then there are my sons. The oldest one is Saad, and of course there is Musaed, who will be the next executioner."