Hussain Urni Hussain al-Fiki hanged 1,070 prisoners during his career as Egypt's sole executioner; 'There's only one president and there's only one hangman,' says proud al-Fiki
The Egyptian Alyoum Alsabaa newspaper gave a rare peak into the life of "Hemshawi," Egypt's most famous executioner.
Exactly 1,070 executions stand to his name. "The gallows was my dream," he admitted.
Hussein Qarrni Hussein al-Fiki, the hangman's real name, was born in 1947 in the city of Tanta and served in the Egyptian military until 1967.
He then joined the prison service and worked for 15 years as a prison guard, in charge of accompanying the most dangerous prisoners due to his impressive physical build.
Al-Fiki's career changed when he was stationed in the Kana district. "I met the district's hangman and hoped to replace him," he recounted.
"The hangman got five Egyptian liras for one job, while I got only 15 for a whole month's work.
"Then one of the hangman's assistants retired and they called me to Cairo, where I was chosen to replace him," al-Fiki told how his dream became a reality.
The hangman of Egypt who loved his job
As the hangman's assistant, his job did not amount to much: "I traveled around with the hangman and all I had to do was bring the prisoner from his cell to the warden's office and from there to the gallows.
"If needed, I had to restrain him."
Al-Fiki's final ascension occurred under tragic circumstances. "We went to execute a convict in Tanta and that night the hangman was exhausted. We took him to the hospital after he had a major aneurysm.
"We managed to perform the sentence in the morning and returned to Cairo. On the way the hangman's condition deteriorated and he died, making me Egypt's sole executioner in his place.
"Like there's only one president, there's only one hangman," he said.
A long career
Al-Fiki recounted his first hanging, in 1998. "I can't forget that year. They called me and told me I must execute a woman and a boy in Tanta who had an affair and killed the boy's brother, the woman's husband.
"I was struck with anxiety and couldn't sleep for two days."
But al-Fiki's anxiety disappeared after years on the job, and he confessed he has no trouble sleeping anymore.
"After I became self-confident I performed many executions. The most memorable was the executions in one day of six people who were convicted of a massacre," the hangman related.
In the course of his long career al-Fiki executed 1,070 people, but one remained etched in his memory.
"I was in a prison in a village in the Manofia district. We were supposed to execute a woman," he recounted.
"Suddenly, we felt an earthquake and there was mayhem. Women started shouting that Allah doesn't want her to be hanged. But, Allah be praised, we did hang her."
Despite his work routine, the mustached executioner has a life beyond the gallows. "I paid a price for the nature of my job. I was divorced twice because my wives detested my work, especially when I came home with blood-stained clothes," he detailed.
"But Allah gave me a third wife who tolerated me and gives me a proper life and we've raised two children."
Al-Fiki's wife praised him: "Though my husband has a reputation for a heart of stone, since he executes prisoners and sees them die before his eyes, he's sensitive in his home.
"He has a good heart and he becomes distressed if he sees blood or if something happens to me or the children. He's a kind husband and an exemplary father," she said.
Last requests are part of the routine of the hangman, and al-Fiki became used to both standard and unusual pleas: "Some ask for reasonable things like writing a will or a last prayer, but some make unrealistic requests like seeing their parents or someone else," al-Fiki explained.
"Some shout 'I'm innocent, let me go.' Some cry and there are those who are so afraid they piss themselves."
At the end of the interview, the black-humored hangman asked the reporters smilingly: "Any last requests?"