May every new year find you free
Dear Alaa Abd El Fattah,
May every year find you well, and gallant, and free.
I write to you on the last day of a miserable year, in which Egyptian dreams of a civil rule of freedom, dignity and social justice were transformed into the nightmare of a rule that is military to its marrow, oppressive of arm, civil of veneer, guaranteeing freedom only to those who applaud it, and protecting the dignity only of those who benefit from the absence of social justice and the existence of several states within the state.
I hope that the new year in which you read this letter will see the beginning of the end of this nightmare, and the return of awareness to all those who did not realize that the revolution was never the cause of Egyptians’ suffering. Rather, it was the result of their failure, for decades, to confront the causes of their suffering. A suffering which will not end unless it’s confronted frankly, a suffering from which they will not be saved by any mandate they may give to an oppressive authority whose men, mindset and behavior are the main reason for Egypt’s deplorable condition.
I would have liked to lie to you, to tell you that you’re getting a lot of support from the media, from the television channels which so recently made a theme of decrying the Muslim Brotherhood regime’s attempts to jail you, the channels that played and replayed “The Prisoners’ Laugh” — the poem Abnoudi dedicated to you when you were jailed after the Maspero massacre.
The bitter truth is that you are no longer remembered or mentioned now by many of the defenders of freedoms. You committed a serious crime when you were angered by the blood that flowed in the Rabea massacre, despite your differences with its owners. And another crime when you wouldn’t give a blank check to the oppressive authority — a renunciation of your right as a citizen to question and criticize and object.
But your worst crime was that you would not stop reminding everyone that the police and the army had committed crimes, would not stop demanding that they be held accountable for their crimes as the Brotherhood leaders were being made to account for theirs.
The state had to treat you like a dangerous terrorist, to raid your house with APCs and masked officers, to assault you and terrorize your family and violate all your legal rights. Not so that you’d stop what you do — they know very well that you won’t desist from what you see as a national duty, and they know that they have nothing that convicts you of treason or agency or any of the smears their dogs have been barking out for years on the satellites and the internet.
No, they are sending a message to anyone who does — or thinks of doing — what you do. Everyone should realize that there are no longer any lines that won’t be crossed in this country, now that they have a quorum of revolutionaries and civil-staters who will rubber-stamp any crime in the name of fighting terrorism and preserving the respect/awe/authority of the state.
You used to resist the huge solidarity you evoked. You thought it infringed on the rights of unknown revolutionaries who’d given even more to the country than you. Rest easy, if the ruling powers have achieved justice at all it’s been in the equality of the blackout on all the imprisoned revolutionaries.
There’s no distinction now between how they treat you and how they treat Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, Mohamed Adel, or Hossam Hassan, Sherif Farag, Luay Qahwagi, Omar Hatheq, Ahmed Abd al-Hamid, or the men they took from the coffee-shop or Al-Azhar University, or the hundreds of detainees to whom the newspapers don’t even give a name but refer to only as “figures” since they belong to those “others” who support former President Mohamed Morsi.
What you have in common, despite your differences, is that you deserve the worst treatment because you did not rob the country and turn it into a fiefdom like Mubarak and his sons and his men. This is why you are not treated with courtesy, why police officers don’t salute you, and why the prosecutors and the courts don’t apply to you the relaxed spirit of the law.
I don’t tell you all this to intensify a trouble you are living. I — who agree with you so much and differ with you occasionally — have always been dazzled by your amazing ability to see light at the end of the dark tunnel, and your even more amazing ability to be — through your mocking playfulness and your revolutionary spirit — the light that keeps us company in the loneliness of the tunnel that we’re not yet sure has an end.
I realize that you — with your revolutionary consciousness and your free mind — know that your presence in jail (you who have never carried a weapon except your tweets) proves the bankruptcy of this authority and its insistence on committing the same mistakes as its predecessors, which will deliver it most certainly to a fate similar to theirs. Not because you have superpowers that bring down every authority that acts against you, but because defeat is the unavoidable fate of any authority that suppresses free opinion; that protects itself with brute force, not with justice; that extends its life through lies and media whoring.
The most that this miserable authority will achieve by imprisoning those who did nothing except resist it through peaceful protest is to create from amongst them models for change like Nelson Mandela and Lula Da Silva — and maybe also it will create models like Sayyed Qutb and Shukri Mustafa. Maybe it will create those who will be released to sell out and reap the gains of hypocrisy and lying. And in any case, society will gain nothing from its silence in the face of injustice, except that it will walk for longer on the wrong path and discover after a while that it has lost precious time that it could have used in overcoming the past instead of faithfully repeating its mistakes.
I will not say emotional words of encouragement. A smile from Khaled when he visits is enough to persuade you and Manal that the chances of backing off from changing this country to make it a good place for his generation is about as likely as the chances of another Pink Dragon appearing in the skies of Omraneyyah.
I don’t even think of encouraging you. How absurd to encourage a man who has sisters as great and brave and loyal as Mona and Sanaa, who has a father with the courage and the humanity of Ahmed Seif al-Islam Hamad, a mother with the solidity and the goodness of Laila Soueif, and beyond them relatives and family and friends and loved ones and supporters and well-wishers and sympathizers — all of whom draw strength from your laugh against the depression of this vengeful phase, all of them proud because in you they have a “back” that oppression can only strengthen, and a heart of such beauty that prison can leave nothing in it except new occasions for laughter and saved up stories to be told to Manal and Khaled.
Dear Alaa Abd El Fattah, and everyone who rejects injustice and the shedding of blood and hypocrisy and the demise of crimes by sleight of hand and fraud — may every new year find you well and gallant and free.
December 31 2013
This article was originally published in Arabic in the privately owned newspaper Al-Shorouk. English translation by Ahdaf Soueif.