Monday, November 14, 2011

الناس الصغيرة لما كبرت - On Alaa - the friend i miss

I think of Alaa alot these days - there is the obvious reason why i may, bas also because i miss him as a friend.

I think of him especially when i feel my heart tug to the weight of all the heartache behind the revolution. I think of when i called him towards the end of January. When all was in question, and many many people had died. What if we were suppressed, i asked? What if we couldn't avenge their deaths?. "E7na beneksab!!" he kept shouting on the phone; 'We're winning' - he couldn't understand how anything i might have seen or experienced could undermine that. 'E7na ba2eyna thawra' - we've grown into a revolution.

I think also of how the last time we had a discussion he was saying maybe the reason that masses had never mobilized for our protests since 2005 was because we always talked about the 'constitution', 'freedom of speech/press', the judiciary... all things that were irrelevant to people because the system, state and structure as a whole was illegitimate. When the call was for the toppling of a regime - something we may have deemed possible, but possibly far fetched, a population took to the streets. We, the people, are more radical, than radicalism. The masses mobilized when the cause was worthy, and that one was.

I'd known of him and Manal for long before we actually met in 2005 - where i constantly heard about them from a common friend - we all shared a dream of developing a camp or alternative school of sorts for kids. There we'd reverse the effect of schools, bring in an explosion of art, critical thinking and maybe a light infusion of all those values behind ideology. Or in short, a bit of socialism.

We decided to meet regularly, or salma to introduce us, but it never really happened.

In 2005, i joined the May 25th protests, was attacked as a woman, as a girl, as a person, as a protestor, and as some one who wasn't allowed to vote against amendments. It became personal. After the ugly protest i roamed the city with Nora younis, out of one surreal meeting into another. We discussed the day with everyone from the cabs we rode with, to the people we met with, tried to work on people who were arrested, and made friends with a felucca sailor who said that 'el nas el soghayara' (the little people) always pay the price of trying to play politics.

The day ended in Hisham Mubarak, where i met Alaa's dad - Ahmed Seif. A man I learn so much from, from afar. On a day that was cold and confusing, where i was hurt in many different ways, he felt like a warm hug. He had been hurt himself, had been to jail for 5 years, had been tortured, but emerged out of it with a stronger faith in justice somehow, and a life devoted to it.

I know his years in jail were not easy on Alaa, and that is the thought that makes the idea of Alaa in prison most painful to contemplate. He would not have wanted his son to be born without him. But i have no doubt that he does this, because he would not want a son born to a father with anything less than complete integrity. In this way, in his living up to his chants that SCAF is not fit to rule, by refusing to be interrogated by them; he is true to himself, and true to the man that Laila Soueif and Ahmed Seif have brought up. He is also true to Manal in whom he looks for himself and mostly to Khaled Alaa Ahmed Seif Abdelfattah, who will come to the world roaring with pride.

Khaled will forever be told the story of how his father was in jail when he was born - his father whose love for his mother is as famous a fact as Alaa's own activism. That he would risk a moment so special for something as real as the sense of justice, and integrity. To be consistent through and through.

So i left Ahmed Seif on that 25th of May astounded, inspired and filled with resolve. And i wrote this note.

and it somehow made its way to Alaa, and he got in touch with;

"Hi Alia,

salma beblawi forwarded me your El nas el soghayara piece, I loved it.

I don't know if you know about blogs and the small but growing Egyptian

blogging movement (check and hell maybe you're even part of it already

who knows.

anyway I wanted to check is El Nas El Soghayara is published anywhere on

the web, and if not to invite you to publish it somewhere for more

people to read it.



'Blogs and blogging' were still a thing you may not know about in 2005 :)

The email turned into a discussion and one in particular about his father Ahmed-Seif. He talked for a bit about how his father being in jail dispersed the conditions of bad guys and good guys for him as a child...

He explained some of the confusions: his father was in prison 'but' he was good/ 'so' he was good'? Cops put him in prison, so were all cops bad? or were some still good/necessary? Ahmed Seif is still in touch with his prison guards, and talks to them like buddies, and they always want to do him favors. But weren't they 'baddies'?

I can't imagine grappling with such questions as a toddler, when you would still proudly announce when someone asked you what your father did for a living with "He's in jail :) ". Laila Soueif then taught him to say "He's a political prisoner", and not merely 'in jail'. Still alot for a five year old to muster, i imagine.

Handling such complications perhaps explains Alaa's deep-set notions of justice and radicalism and right and might. But they don't, because somehow at the end it boils down to something really simple. In that first exchange of emails in 2005, he explained Ahmed Seif a bit better:

"thats the thing with my dad he is not sacrificing, he is not doing any

thing special, to him its a normal thing and I suppose this is what

inspires everyone. you don't need to be special, courageous, strong, or

anything like that, you just need to be good."

Look who you've grown into ya Alaa :)

While 'just being good' is what drives Alaa to be brave; what drives me , certainly is being surrounded by family and friends and the bubble of trueness of intent that they create. I've been lucky these last 6 years as my life has been a constant production and reproduction and affirmation and reaffirmation, that all that is ideal can be real, and all that is good is possible and all around us.

I cannot begin to describe what it means to be in a revolution with your husband, your brother, your father, your mother, your aunt, your cousins. Death shrinks in insignificance. And the risks you take you internalize, and they become you, and part of all your lives. Needless to say, bravery, legitimacy, protest, chanting, revolution it all, all becomes about love. All the love you've ever felt or wanted to feel floats out of you and binds us all as 'us'.

I can't begin to imagine that Khaled has been conceived of this :) And that he will be born into a world of ideals, the best time of our lives, where all our focus and all our energies are focused unto being good, and proving that this IS a world where we will be.

(Alaa is also someone i love because he reminds me it's ok to be corny. that i manage to say 'fluffy' things in a way that matter. in honor of this reminder - and him being the only person who encourages me to be like this, i let it all through ;))

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why the Egyptian Revolution matters to us all..


If the occupations that have sprung up across our globe are indeed inspired by Cairo’s Tahrir Square (as we say they are), then it is worth mentioning that a number of people who were crucial for the organization of the Tahrir Square demonstrations are now behind bars. In fact, over 12,000 of them have been imprisoned.

The Egyptian military has practiced systematic violence against protestors since the beginning of the revolution. Covert at first, repression escalated when the security services fired into crowd that had gathered in Tahrir Square in April. Particularly, they targeted a small group in military uniform who claimed to be splitting ranks and had come to the square for protection. In June, the military attacked a protest by the families of those killed during the revolution. In August, the square was forcefully evicted.

The strongest blow, however, was on October 9th, when hundreds of protestors who marched in solidarity with Coptic Christians were attacked in a night of bloodshed and violence. Twenty-eight peaceful protestors died, hundreds of others were injured.

The army announced its investigation into what became ‘The Maspiro Massacre’, and within two weeks summoned activists and bloggers Alaa Abdelfattah and Bahaa Saber to be interrogated as suspects for the violence that had occurred. Mina Daniel, an activist shot dead on that day, was designated as the prime suspect for inciting violence. Essentially, Mina was being accused of his own murder.

Abdelfattah and Saber refused to be interrogated by a body they deemed illegitimate. They argued that the military was too implicated in the violence to be able to properly investigate it. As a result, criminal charges (of inciting violence and stealing military equipment) were levelled against them. While Saber was let out on bail, Abdelfattah was detained for 15 days pending investigation.

Has anything changed since Mubarak, one asks? As a matter of fact, much has.

More and more arrested bloggers and activists are refusing to appear before military courts, demanding civilian trials where their cases will be considered objectively. For this, many pay with their freedom. But they insist they will not answer to an illegitimate body. We are not afraid to say it: the Supreme Council of Armed Forces is not fit to rule.

In Mubarak’s era, we were an opposition movement. We operated in the margins, creating spaces for dissent in make-shift theatres and online blogs, where we practiced our vision of democracy. Our spaces grew wider and wider until a nation revolted against tyranny and our vision took centre-stage. As the rallying cry of a popular revolution, our vision has legitimacy. Since January, we could no longer be branded as a marginal opposition movement. The only illegitimate body in Egypt today is the Surpreme Council – it rules but fails to deliver justice.

A ‘No to Military Trials’ campaign is one of many grassroots initiatives that have developed since the start of the revolution. It mobilizes lawyers and campaigners whenever protestors or civilians are arrested and tried by the military. The campaign demands fair investigations and trials. It is one example how we have taken justice into our own hands. While the military continues to lose legitimacy, civil society is trying to fill the void.

Alaa Abdelfattah is an activist, but also a friend. I personally believe that his incarceration is not only on account of his bravery, but is a reaction of the authorities to his incessant description of the revolution as ‘an opportunity to dream’. In one meeting a few months ago, he announced: “We have achieved the impossible and surprised ourselves…we have the opportunity now, like no other time to dream up our new country. Let’s not wait for experts and technocrats tell us how to do it. For, they have already failed us and we have done what they could never do.”

What connects Tahrir to Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London is our ability to create spaces to develop our dreams. Within the squares and the camps, we can imagine a different world. We can dream up alternatives and experiment with them in our daily practices. We meet people whom we would usually never meet, and tickle and trigger each others’ imaginations. This ability to dream, to imagine that another world is possible, is the biggest threat to any establishment, more so a military junta.

We are all implicated in the global web of power that works to keep us apart. A dream in one country is a threat to the world; and a threat to one dream, should mobilize us all in support of the alternative. Only then will our dreams prevail.