On 18 August 2014, long-standing Hivos friend and partner Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah began a hunger strike in prison to protest his detention by state authorities for the third time since the start of the Egyptian revolution in January 2011.
In late 2011, Alaa was charged by a military court for incitement and imprisoned for two months. In 2013 he was detained for 115 days without trial and now faces 15 years in prison.
Alaa’s decision came a day after visiting his father, prominent human rights lawyer Ahmad Seif, who had become unconscious in hospital. In his own words , “The well-being of my body is of no value while it remains subject to an unjust power in an open-ended imprisonment not controlled by the law or any concept of justice.” Ahmad Seif passed away on 27 August 2014.
Alaa Abdel Fattah is an Egyptian blogger, software developer and political activist. He is known for co-founding – along with his wife Manal Hassan, daughter of activist Bahi El-Din Hassan – the Egyptian blog aggregators Manalaa and Omraneya. These were the first Arab blog aggregators that did not restrict inclusion based on the content of the blog. Alaa and Manal belong to the core members of the Arab Bloggers community, whose meetings are supported by Hivos.
In solidarity with Alaa Abdel Fattah and the dozens of Egyptian human rights activists wrongfully imprisoned for exercising their right to peaceful protest, we reproduce Alaa’s open letter below.
18 August 2014
At 4 pm today, I celebrated with my colleagues my last meal in prison.
I have decided — when I saw my father fighting against death locked in a body that was no longer subject to his will — I decided to start an open hunger strike until I achieve my freedom. The well-being of my body is of no value while it remains subject to an unjust power in an open-ended imprisonment not controlled by the law or any concept of justice.
I’ve had the thought before, but I put it aside. I did not want to place yet another burden on my family — we all know that the Ministry of the Interior does not make life easy for hunger strikers. But now I’ve realized that my family’s hardship increases with every day that I’m in jail. My youngest sister, Sanaa, and the protesters of Ettehadiya were arrested only because they demanded freedom for people already detained. They put my sister in prison because she demanded my freedom! And so our family’s efforts were fragmented between two prisoners, and my father’s heart worn out between two courts — my father, who had postponed a necessary surgery more than once because of this ill-fated Shura Council case.
They tore me from my son, Khaled, while he was still struggling to get over the trauma of my first imprisonment. Then there was the brute performance of the Ministry of the Interior as they carried out their “humane” gesture — my visit to my father in the ICU. The police tried to empty the hospital ward and corridor of patients and doctors and family and nurses before they would allow the visit. They set times and informed us, and then canceled. In the end they snatched me from my prison cell at dawn with the same tenderness shown when they arrested me.
The police general could not decide how to ensure I would not escape. He was completely convinced that this was all a ruse, that nobody was sick and we were conspiring to deprive him of his hours of rest. I arrived at the hospital chained to the iron frame of the police transport vehicle, and, finally, in the ward they snuck in a camera and filmed us against our will.
All this served to prove to me that my being patient would not help my mother, Laila, my sister, Mona, or my wife, Manal. That waiting does not relieve my family of hardship but actually makes them prisoners like me, subject to the dictates and the moods of an organization devoid of humanity and incapable of compassion.
I have faced courts and prisons before, and I have welcomed them. I thought them a necessary and expected price for dissident positions and an opportunity to fight for the principles and the guarantees of fair trials. Every hearing or renewal or trial was an opportunity to exert pressure against exceptional justice, an opportunity to support those judges whom we thought were upright. We thought they were many and needed our support. Every day in prison was an opportunity to remind society of the many unjustly imprisoned, an opportunity to pressure the media and political groups to work to end the daily erosion of our rights.
But when finally I stood in front of my civil judge I found less justice than in the worst exceptional courts. Procedure, law, standards were all pushed aside, and even though we managed to bring into the open the details of many cases, not one judge raised his voice against the trials taking place in Tora Police Academy. As for the politicians, they contented themselves with begging for mercy for us on the basis of our revolutionary history, without once mentioning what was happening to justice itself.
My days in prison are not bringing us any closer to a state committed to its laws or to courts committed to justice. Prison gives me nothing now except hatred.
Since the bloody conflict started between the state and the Islamists, I’ve declared more than once that it was imperative that we should have no part in it. When the conservative power traditionally responsible for stability forces a process of polarization and engages in a conflict that seems to have no end, except the utter submission or annihilation of one side or the other, then the role of those whose heart is with the revolution is to try to put the brakes on society and stop the conflict.
I have repeatedly said that we have to stand against the violations and crimes of both sides and to take the side of the victims, whatever their identity. I’ve also said that we have to remove ourselves completely from the conflict by not raising demands except within the limits of the right to life and the dignity of the body and the freedom of the individual, for today, the foundations of life itself are under threat.
I do not fight alone to save the foundation of life. My comrades are many, even though their voices have grown faint in the huge noise of the raging battle. But my closest comrades in the fight for the right to life, the dignity of the body and the freedom of the individual have always been my family.
Mona organizes volunteers to stop exceptional trials, my mother is in constant contact with victims of torture and provides — simply by being there on the ground — a certain protection for young protesters and a witness difficult to discredit. Manal shares with me the work of providing activists and victims with the expertise and technology necessary to organize campaigns and to document violations. Sanaa organizes support and care for the unjustly imprisoned and my father, in court, defends both them and us. He brings down laws by proving them unconstitutional, and sets those wronged free with miraculous “innocent” verdicts. And from time to time, he manages to put a torturer in prison.
My repeated imprisonment was a link in the chain of my family’s struggle. Together, we were part of the struggle of thousands who never give up and millions who sometimes rise up.
Today that chain is broken. Sanaa, who used to look after me, is in prison and needs someone to look after her. Manal works alone to try to protect Khaled from the emotional and practical consequences of my imprisonment. Mona and my mother care for my unconscious father who can no longer defend me.
Therefore, I am asking your permission today to fight — not just for my freedom, but for my family’s right to life. As of today, I am depriving my body of food until I am able to be at the side of my father in his fight with his own body, for the dignity of the body needs the embrace of loved ones.
I ask for your prayers. I ask for your solidarity. I ask you to continue what I am no longer able to do: to struggle, to dream, to hope.
August 18, 2014 The first day of the strike