The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged alaaabdelfattah
“I will no longer play the role they’ve written for me”

Alaa Abdelfattah decides to go on hunger strike:

Statement from the Family of Alaa Abd El-Fattah

Alaa is on Hunger Strike: “I will no longer play the role they’ve written for me”.

At 2 o’clock on the morning of Sunday August 17, Alaa visited his father, Ahmad Seif, in the ICU Unit of Qasr el-Eini hospital, after Seif had become unconscious.

Three days earlier we’d been on our latest visit to Alaa in Tora Prison. His father’s health at that point had been relatively good. Since then there had been no way for us to inform him that his father had gone into crisis. And so Alaa arrived at the hospital in the small hours of Sunday happy to be visiting, carrying flowers, looking forward to talking with his father. He found him unconscious in an ICU cubicle.

That spectacle crystalised matters for him. By the end of the few-minute visit Alaa had decided that he would withdraw co-operation with the unjust and absurd sitution he had been put in – even if this cost him his life.

For context, Alaa had previously taken the view that he would cooperate with the judicial process and authorities, hoping for an eventual acquittal on a retrial (since his conviction was the result of an absurd trial he was not allowed to attend.)

His family's full statement is here.

Alaa's letter to his sisters
The day that they broke into my house and arrested me, Khaled was sick and unable to sleep. I took him in my arms for an hour until he slept. And what is adding to the oppression that I feel is that I find that this imprisonment is serving no purpose, it is not resistance and there is no revolution. The people that are in ongoing negotiations despite the fact that they are not in jail aren’t worth the reality that I am deprived from spending even one hour with my son. The previous imprisonments had meaning because I felt that I was in jail by choice and it was for a positive gain. Right now, I feel that I can’t bear people or this country and there is no meaning for my imprisonment other than freeing me from the guilt I would feel being unable to combat the immense oppression and injustice that is ongoing.

It is true that I am still powerless, but at least I have become oppressed among the many oppressed and I no longer owe a duty or feel guilt. To be honest, one hour with Khaled is more beneficial. I don’t even understand how I can live without him and I don’t understand how I can live without Manal. When I got the order to appear before the Prosecutor, Manal began to pragmatically prepare so that our work would not be delayed and I became so unsettled at her and a visit I had with Maysara to delegate some of my work and determine who will take on the rest of the responsibilities. I knew that I would be imprisoned, but I didn’t want to think about how our lives would go on while we are no longer together. At the end, life goes on. Just because my willpower and control on time has stopped, does not mean that time itself has stopped.

The thought is scary, I am facing two felonies and it is clear that they have decided that we must be handed down sentences. It is clear that the revolution is in poor shape. We may be handed down sentences, in which case time stops for me and continues to go on for you for years, which means that Khaled grows up without me. This means that he will undergo many colds and will sleep away from my hugs for long.
— Letter dated 24 December 2013 by political prisoner Alaa Abdel Fattah

Note: Khaled is Alaa's two-year old son, Manal his wife. He is in prison and facing charges of inciting protests. Thousands of Egyptians – almost all Islamist activists – have been arrested since July 2013. Alaa, a prominent leftwing activist, has been investigated and/or arrested by every regime since Mubarak.

Why do we care about Alaa more than Maikel?

There's a good post up at Bikya Misr asking that question:

CAIRO: A total of no more than 15 people showed up on Tuesday November 1 outside C28 to show their support for Maikel Nabil. Of the 15 were a couple of Maikel’s own family members and AlJazeera crew, which essentially dwindles the numbers down to about 11 protesters.

It’s Maikel’s 70th day on hunger strike, but clearly it didn’t concern many.

Having just attended a march the previous night to free Alaa Abdel Fattah, where thousands by thousands had joined, I frankly expected the people’s fuel had finally caught fire. Judging by the turnout that Tuesday however, I was mistaken and disheartened.

It’s difficult to point out why many have such a passive attitude towards Maikel’s case in particular. We claim to seek ‘freedom of speech’, no government censorship and the liberty to express ourselves. Yet where there is an opposing viewpoint we have a tendency to create boundaries – where is the freedom in that?

Try having a conversation with a colleague or a friend in attempt to define freedom of speech, more often than not people will say ‘I do believe in freedom of speech but …’ and wind up giving you exceptions such as it’s okay to say anything as long as it’s not ‘culturally insensitive’. As such, they subconsciously set limits on others freedom to express. The more conscious we become of it, the more we will be able to avoid it.

Personally, I say it bluntly and simply, I don’t agree with Maikel’s campaign “No to compulsory Service” and I’m against his pro-Israeli views. I would assume a lot of Egyptians would share a similar stance on the latter. Regardless of my justification for these views I still feel the need to act based on principle and humanity. Maikel has been accused of supposedly ‘insulting’ the military council in one of his blog posts and not for the ideas that have made him unpopular, which is a misconception I’ve been hearing frequently. And so, the way I see it supporting Maikel’s case has become synonymous with being a believer in freedom of speech.

I know why I care more about Alaa: because I know him. And for many Alaa is simply better-known, and associated with the anti-Mubarak, pro-democracy movement since 2005 at least. He's also a better communicator.

But at the same time it's true that the Maikel Nabil case does not get nearly as much attention. Part of it is that Maikel's initial reputation was built around his pro-Israel views, and his refusal to be drafted into military service because he doesn't want to harm Israel (as well as advice on draft-dodging). It's not just that many Egyptians have anti-Israel views,  but it's also that Mikael's view is perplexing when you consider he defends a civil, secular state and human rights more generally: after all, Israel is hardly a great example of separation of religion and state.

Should any of this matter? I don't think so — at the end of the day, Mikael is the victim of a system of oppression that has sent some 12,000 to military tribunals, reduced freedom of expression and does not allow certain views — including being pro-Israel — from being expressed. And for that, he deserves support.

Another letter from Alaa from, and on, prison

Alaa Abdel Fattah, the Egyptian blogger and activist who has been jailed for refusing to answer the questions of a military prosecutor about the Maspero Affair, has been shifted to another cell. In another heart-breaking dispatch from prison, he explains why:

I am writing this note with a deep sense of shame. I have just been moved from Ist’naf (appeal) prison, at my request and insistence, because I simply couldn’t withstand the difficult conditions there: because of the darkness, the filth , the roaming cockroaches, crawling over my body night and day; because there was no courtyard, no sunshine and, again, the darkness.

However, what I couldn’t stand, above all, was the revoltingly toilets. I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t navigate my way around the filthy, door-less, overcrowded toilets. So I spent my first five days simply “keeping it in”. Until I could take no more.

I found Nouara’s piece, celebrating my “manliness”, confusing, but Najlaa Budeir’s article reminded me how, in my previous stint here, my blog was my refuge, the sanctuary where I could be brutally candid with myself.

So yes, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t “man up” and bear it, even though I knew only too well that thousands were bravely and stoically enduring far worse conditions, even though I never had to suffer the untold horrors of military prisons, nor was I ever subjected to the torture meted out to those comrades of mine who had been sent down to the military courts.

And so, I let my Maspero protest comrades, my fellow prisoners facing the wrath of the ministry of defence, as well as other political detainees, down. I let down all those prisoners who had been moved, upon seeing the mayhem and fracas that my presence had been causing, to come and speak to me, sharing their tales of the horrors endured at the hands of the interior ministry, all so that I could tell the outside world about it. They were overjoyed that someone was going to speak up about the baltagia and the gangs.

Yet, I left them behind, because of dirty toilets.

Read the rest here.