The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Four detainees released; 21 others given 15 more days

I honestly don’t understand how this country works anymore. After extending their detention Sunday for 15 more days, the State Security Prosecutor U-turned this afternoon, ordering the release of two leftist women activists, Nada al-Qassass and Rasha 3azab.

The two women journalists were arrested on May 7, together with Asmaa Ali of the Revolutionary Socialists, whose release the prosecutor ordered yesterday. The two women are still in Qanater Women’s Prison, and are expected to go free tomorrow. (Mabrouk ya banat!!)

The State Security Prosecutor also ordered today the release of Ashraf Ibrahim and Hamdi Abul Ma3ati Qenawi, while extending the detention of 21 other activists—including Kamal Khalil, Ibrahim el-Sahari and Wael Khalil, who’ve been in prison since April 26-27—for another 15 more days.More...

Ashraf Ibrahim was one of the hunger-strikers who were forcefully moved last week to solitary confinement in Mazra3et Tora prison. The hunger strike lasted for five days, with more than a dozen detainees taking part. Ashraf and four other detainees were transferred by a Special Operations police force, attached to Tora, against their will. The detainees’ lawyers say the remaining four, after Ashraf’s release, were returned to their original cells in Mahkoum Tora.

3alaa Seif al-Islam, a prominent leftist blogger whose detention was renewed yesterday for another 15 days, sent a letter from prison today. My friend Alia Mossallam kindly translated it into English:

Ya Ahmad…

Ya Maher…

We just received fifteen others..

With no release..

Today I received 15 more days, and yet still I kept my composure in the prosecutor’s office; more than any other time.

For thirty days now I’ve been trying to analyze and theorize, trying to anticipate or predict when my release from detention would be. Every theory we’ve produced turned out useless.

When they started releasing people, we thought it would only be days before they let the group out. We were wrong.

We thought they’ll let anyone they couldn’t associated with the Ghad Party, or the Revolutionary Socialists, we were still wrong.

I think I’ll get another period, that is, at least two months in jail.

Two months of not seeing Manal, save for the stolen hours in the midst of the crowded visits (twice a week if I’m lucky) and the at prosecutor’s office. Two months away from my work, away from my house, away from my friends and family; two months without internet.

On witnessing the misfortunes of others, one’s own misfortunes supposedly weaken or pale in comparison. (taken from an Egyptian proverb). There are people in prison who’ve been detained in an ongoing trial for four years, and might eventually be found innocent, but then no one will compensate them for the years they’ve lost.

In the State Security prosecutor’s office we met youth of the Salafi Jihaists and Al Ta’ifa al Mansoura (The Victorious Group) that have endured torture I cannot even imagine. But even amongst the Kefaya group my misfortunes should pale, for I’ve not been beaten like Sharqawi, nor have I been brought here by mistake, clueless to what’s going on around me like Ibrahim. My family are from Cairo and are able to visit me regularly, unlike a lot of colleagues, and I’ll most probably get out of this to find my job waiting for me, unlike a great many of my colleagues as well.

Yet unfortunately, the misfortunes of others are insufficient to relieve the prison experience. Every single day passes slowly and difficultly, every day is heavy, every day brings thoughts of Manal, and every day is prison.

A powerful feeling of injustice with every appearance before prosecution. You Prosecutor, you son of a dog, you’re capable of relieving me from my imprisonment and your only excuse is that you’re following orders?!

I really wish I could understand the mentality that’s prepared to destroy people’s homes and jeopardize their lives for the sake of orders!

And this prosecutor, is he not a judge like Mekky and Bastawisi and Zakariyya Abdel Aziz and Saber and Noha El Zeiny, and so many others…

Every time I start to write with the intention of writing about prison, and my colleagues in prison, I cannot. I blame my tools (Pens are an ancient invention, damn it! Mercy!) I convince myself that I can’t write a story unless I tell it to someone first. I blame the need to keep my fellow prisoner’s violations and our negotiations with the prison’s management a secret. But this isn’t the problem, I just can’t write letters to the people outside or even reply to the letters I’m getting. (Oh yes, please don’t stop the flow of letters just because I don’t reply, they really make a difference).

The detainment involves a lot of incidents that deserve to be recounted

  • The shaving of my hair

  • The cell for psychopathic crimes that I spent two days in

  • Getting my picture taken as in the Mickey Mouse comics, while holding my number

  • The white prison clothes that are always dirty

  • Ending the first hunger strike

  • Refusing the second hunger strike

  • Holding the meeting regarding the ‘Lunatic show’ at the prosecutor's office

  • The details of the ‘Public life committee’ and the ‘Relief committee’ (You sent us cockroach pesticide that only works after a week!)

  • The releases

  • Sharkawi’s return

  • The third hunger-strike and the solitary confinement and the disciplinary ward

  • Negotiations with the prison administration

  • Theories by the group on breaking through security

  • The round I made around half the cells in the prison, a different cell everyday

The daily trip from an old ward to a new one 

  • The classical Egyptian bureaucracy, as it becomes a matter of life and death

  • Droubi and his diabetes

  • A suicide attempt by one of the prisoners

  • The screwed up world of criminals

  • The world of public finances that is 60 times as messed up

  • Egyptian television

  • The cats that look like prisoners

  • The ‘shawaysha’ that have chosen to completely eliminate their brains (May they burn)

  • The visits and the tableyya

And of course the fellow prisoners, the friends; old and new. At first, fellow prisoners who were not friends, and who could not be friends, were a huge crisis.

Bidding matches and relationships and the senseless discussions were the worst of all, but they’re over now.

I don’t know if the releases have slackened the situation, or if I’ve just gotten used to it, or if I’ve finally understood that these people are a minority and that that number of friends is not little, and the majority of people are good.  

I’ll save the talk about fellow inmates for next time; maybe then I can write a little more than just a list.


UPDATE: Looks like the Muslim Brothers had their share of State Security prosecution also today. A report by Nadia Abou El-Magd of the Associated Press states 164 Brotherhood activists had their detention renewed for another 15 days.

Egypt extends jail time for pro-reform protesters
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Egyptian prosecutors on Tuesday extended the detentions of 164 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and 21 other people for taking part in pro-reform protests earlier this spring.

The 164 members of the Brotherhood and the 21 others were ordered held for 15 more days each by prosecutors of the government's state security arm.

In addition, nine senior members of the Brotherhood were arrested Sunday and ordered detained for 15 days _ bringing to more than 650 the number of the group jailed in the last three months.

Since late April, police have arrested hundreds of activists involved in peaceful protests against disciplinary hearings for two reformist judges. Egyptian authorities can hold detainees for up to six months without trial under Egypt's criminal laws.

Judges Mahmoud Mekki and Hesham el-Bastawisy, members of the country's highest appellate court, were put before the disciplinary board for speaking to the media about election fraud in the most recent parliamentary elections in November and December.

On May 18, the judicial disciplinary panel reprimanded Hesham El-Bastiwisy but cleared Mahmoud Mekki. El-Bastawisy suffered a heart attack hours before the verdict.

The 21 non-Brotherhood protesters ordered held for another 15 days Tuesday have already been in detention since late April. Four others, including two women, were ordered released Tuesday. Most are members of the pro-reform movement called Kifaya, or Enough. In all, about 60 have been in jail for a month after being picked up during demonstrations.

The Brotherhood, an Islamic-based political group that is formally banned but usually tolerated by the government, won nearly 20 percent of the legislature's seats in last year's elections, making it the largest opposition bloc.