Offer your support!

Take the lead!
Support the cause!

Alaa AbdelFattah isn't fighting to die.. He fights so that he and all of us can live

Alaa AbdelFattah isn't fighting to die.. He fights so that he and all of us can live

Join the discussion

We’d like to hear from everyone! By joining our Readers' community, you can access this feature. By joining our Readers, you join a community of like-minded people, thirsty to discuss shared (or not!) interests and aspirations.

Let’s discuss!

Opinion Freedom of Expression Basic Rights

Sunday 13 November 202212:25 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

لا يحارب علاء عبد الفتاح ليموت، وإنما ليعيش ونعيش

Her dark curls dance around her face as we both shake with laughter, as we relive memories of prison tales and what had been happening in the world beyond our prison bars, for the first time face to face. Do the decorations hanging on the wall above our heads, see what I see? Do they also feel the greatness of this long-awaited miracle?

Alaa has made up his mind: He will leave prison, whether it'll be on his feet or carried in a coffin.

We're both here, out of confinement, and out of the country that had oppressed us. We're both here, safe and free, sitting on the steps of the hotel stairs in Washington, D.C., at last meeting in safety, following years that never saw our paths intersect outside prison walls.

Sanaa pulls the sleeves of her jacket and tucks her fingers inside, even though we're inside the hotel's warm lobby. I watch her repeat the same habit every time with an absent look. I think of all the reasons and things that chill her, the weather not being one — the cold that touches Sanaa's soul.. This is a cold that stems from within.

The conversation turns a little somber when she tells me she intends to go back to Egypt. After traveling the whole world in a massive campaign, speaking on every platform, attending conferences, and staging sit-ins and protests to call for the release of her brother Alaa AbdelFattah, and shed light on his hunger strike, Sanaa decided to attend the UN Climate Conference COP27 as an independent observer from the civil society, to press for her brother's freedom, and push the leaders of the international community to demand his release.

She says: 'I have to go. I have no other choice.'

Someone else in such a situation might respond with the words that he does have a choice to stay and keep himself safe, but I know Sanaa bint Ahmad Seif enough to not make such a naive suggestion to her.

We try to stay in the present. We joke and talk until two in the morning. We relish these stolen moments, because come morning, we must say our goodbyes, don our armors, and head back into battle.

She says: 'I have to go. I have no other choice.' Someone else in such a situation might respond with the words that he does have a choice to stay and keep himself safe, but I know Sanaa bint Ahmad Seif enough to not make such a naive suggestion to her

The last time I crossed paths with Sanaa before this was in the visiting hall of the Tora high-security prison complex in Cairo in 2019. She and her sister Mona and their mother, Dr. Laila Soueif, were visiting Alaa AbdelFattah, and I was in my prison suit, serving a fifteen-year prison sentence for "unlawful assembly", while two floors below, Alaa was in his shackles watching the years pass him by after his unforgivable crime of: sharing a post about the death of a political prisoner.

Since the January 25, 2011 Revolution, the Seif family has paid a hefty price for their fearlessness and struggle. Alaa has spent a total of over eight years behind bars, in and out of prison in case after case, finishing one sentence after the other, until he was last arrested in a wave of mass arrests in September 2019, on charges of spreading false news.

Alaa was transferred to the Tora high-security prison, the same prison I was in at the time, and where Hussam — the political prisoner Alaa had shared the post about — had been previously detained. Ironically, the prison administration, following a vicious welcome party, placed Alaa on the same floor where Hussam had died in solitary confinement.

But now, the situation is more dire than ever: Alaa AbdelFattah — who has been on a hunger strike for over 200 days now, starving himself after exhausting all other options of demanding freedom and his most basic human rights — announced in a letter to his sister that, with the start of the climate conference on November 6, he has also entered a full water strike.

Alaa has made up his mind: He will leave prison, whether it'll be on his feet or carried in a coffin.

Weeks ago, his sister Mona Seif explained to the world a new chapter of Alaa's story that had never seen the light of day before: the story of Khaled, Alaa's ten-year-old son, with autism. The prison visits caused great harm to his psyche, with the idea of visiting Alaa behind a glass barrier he isn't allowed to cross or go touch his father being incomprehensible to him. Following a great struggle to allow Khaled to visit his father in a place other than the glass booth, and Alaa's increasing concern about Khaled being exposed to scenes of assault or torture around the prison, Khaled could no longer be taken to see Alaa. Alaa has not embraced his son for a whole year; This was the last straw that pushed him to decide to go on a full strike.

I used to often view prison hunger strikes to be a sign of despair, or a final surrender. Prisoners stop eating because the agony becomes unbearable. They just want it to end.

I used to often view prison hunger strikes to be a sign of despair, or a final surrender. Prisoners stop eating because the agony becomes unbearable. They just want it to end.

But experiencing the power dynamics of incarceration behind bars has opened my eyes, and a new understanding took hold within me. The war between us and them has always been about the body: who has control over it, and who breaks it. The value of oppressors and jailers is centered on their control over our bodies, so you find them obsessed with physical subjugation: shaving hair, stripping us of our clothes, conducting humiliating body searches, withholding our food, our clothing, and even our books so as not to even mentally nourish our bodies. Tyrants draw their value and self-worth from this abuse, as the right to break your body is theirs, and theirs alone.

You might think, logically, that hunger strikes are something encouraged by the authorities and the jailers, since they'll reach a common goal in the end: to break the prisoner's body.

But no, when you choose to break your own body yourself, you are robbing them of their source of value and worth. They are the ones who have the right to break, not you, so they feed you by force and forcefully save you in order to regain control and, by extension, regain their authority and the focus of their existence.

Their message is: If you try to nourish your body, we will destroy it. If you try to dismantle it, we will rush to restore it, so that we can break it back down with our own hands.

I watch Alaa's battle for freedom now and I understand. Alaa is not fighting to die, but to live. He fights for life with his last weapon of resistance: his ownership of his own body. Alaa chooses this because he has no other choice. I understand this, the way I understood back then that Sanaa had no other choice.

As Alaa puts it:

“I am in prison because those in power want to make an example of some of us. Let us be an example then, but on our own terms.”

When you choose to break your body yourself, you're robbing them of their worth. They're the ones who have the right to break, not you, so they save you by force to regain control and, by extension, regain their authority and the focus of their existence

We've been watching the coverage of the climate conference since last Sunday with shining eyes. Sanaa sets foot in the city of Sharm el-Sheikh, and walks on the soil of the homeland that imprisoned her, not once, or twice, but three times now. She walks in, and everyone drops everything in hand to rush over and cover her arrival as if this is a bigger event than anything else yet. She holds a human rights conference on the sidelines of the summit, and her tent is filled to the brim by those eager to hear her words:

“My brother and I watched my father die, while we were both in prison, yet this was not enough for them. We have exhausted all legal, logical, and even illogical ways, yet this was not enough for them. We have tried all negotiating methods and mechanisms to get out of this battle. We are stuck in this tragedy, and here I am not only talking about my family, but also about the entire Arab Spring generation. Our whole generation is stuck paying the heavy price for the revolution, for nine years now. The tax has exceeded all limits and has now become infinite. You need to get over your obsession with this generation that has been tortured in prisons and morgues. Enough! Enough!"

The hall erupts in applause, and our eyes are fill with tears.

We've been watching the climate conference from Sunday with shining eyes. Sanaa sets foot in the homeland that has imprisoned her three times now. She walks in, and everyone drops everything to rush over and cover her arrival as if it's the biggest event

The regime has spent nine years building that deaf bubble that keeps Egypt in a tight chokehold. In order to preserve it, they pumped all their rabid propaganda, their abuse, their prison cells, and rivers of blood into it. And Sanaa comes along and pops the bubble, raining down the views of the real world on their faces, and leaving them stunned after they had been used to only hearing their own voice and its echo for all these years. We watch the madness of state representatives attacking her and then getting expelled from the hall looking completely stunned. We relish the shock on their faces when they see the worthlessness of their farcical positions and the idiotic ranks they bestow upon each other: a theatrical play that they thought the world would jump on stage with them to play in together. When their guns and brute hands were finally put down, things appeared for what they truly were, and we all saw who the world was siding with: the oppressed, who — as Radwa Ashour puts it — is in essence more beautiful than the oppressor.

Rage consumes them after millions were spent to host a conference whose main purpose was to whitewash their crimes and wash away their violations, but had then suddenly turned into a global platform that highlights the issue of detainees under the watchful eyes of the world, with a public immunity that they themselves had unwittingly granted to the speakers.

We listen, and our eyes tear up in disbelief that Sanaa is speaking for us. We place our hands on our hearts in fear and worry for her safety. We know that they are dying to capture her, with only the eyes of the whole world to stop them, as it watches and waits for their reaction.

After years in prison, it's hard for me to hold on to hope. Confinement ripped it away from me. But today I watch Alaa's battle and his frail body, and Sanaa as her loud voice echoes alone, and I choose to believe the final chapter is still being written

Sanaa says: 'Alaa has already won. Regardless of how things turn out, what happened now has ended the real battle that has been going on since the January 25 Revolution: In the absence of weapons, your narrative is too small and trivial to stand.'

Following years in prison, it is hard for me to hold on to hope. Confinement has ripped it away from me. I find it very difficult to delve back into romanticism and dreams. But today, I watch the battle of Alaa as he fights with his frail body, and Sanaa with her loud voice echoing alone, and I choose to believe that the final chapter is still being written. I choose to dream of a meeting soon where I'd embrace Alaa, play with Khaled who'd be straddling his father's shoulders for a fun ride, and nod at Mona who'd be embracing him on his right side, while his left arm surrounds his mother in an embrace, as Sanaa hops around them in her usual giddiness that we all love.

I choose to believe that we are not defeated yet


* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22


Raseef22 is a not for profit entity. Our focus is on quality journalism. Every contribution to the NasRaseef membership goes directly towards journalism production. We stand independent, not accepting corporate sponsorships, sponsored content or political funding.

Support our mission to keep Raseef22 available to all readers by clicking here!

WhatsApp Channel WhatsApp Channel

Be the change you want to see in the world!

The level of justice in a society is determined by the degree of individual freedom its citizens enjoy. This includes the ability to express themselves, live their lives authentically, and feel safe from harm or punishment. Sadly, in our region and many other places, human rights are constantly endangered by oppressive forces. It's up to us to make a difference and lead the way towards positive change.

Website by WhiteBeard