The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Why do we care about Alaa more than Maikel?

There's a good post up at Bikya Misr asking that question:

CAIRO: A total of no more than 15 people showed up on Tuesday November 1 outside C28 to show their support for Maikel Nabil. Of the 15 were a couple of Maikel’s own family members and AlJazeera crew, which essentially dwindles the numbers down to about 11 protesters.

It’s Maikel’s 70th day on hunger strike, but clearly it didn’t concern many.

Having just attended a march the previous night to free Alaa Abdel Fattah, where thousands by thousands had joined, I frankly expected the people’s fuel had finally caught fire. Judging by the turnout that Tuesday however, I was mistaken and disheartened.

It’s difficult to point out why many have such a passive attitude towards Maikel’s case in particular. We claim to seek ‘freedom of speech’, no government censorship and the liberty to express ourselves. Yet where there is an opposing viewpoint we have a tendency to create boundaries – where is the freedom in that?

Try having a conversation with a colleague or a friend in attempt to define freedom of speech, more often than not people will say ‘I do believe in freedom of speech but …’ and wind up giving you exceptions such as it’s okay to say anything as long as it’s not ‘culturally insensitive’. As such, they subconsciously set limits on others freedom to express. The more conscious we become of it, the more we will be able to avoid it.

Personally, I say it bluntly and simply, I don’t agree with Maikel’s campaign “No to compulsory Service” and I’m against his pro-Israeli views. I would assume a lot of Egyptians would share a similar stance on the latter. Regardless of my justification for these views I still feel the need to act based on principle and humanity. Maikel has been accused of supposedly ‘insulting’ the military council in one of his blog posts and not for the ideas that have made him unpopular, which is a misconception I’ve been hearing frequently. And so, the way I see it supporting Maikel’s case has become synonymous with being a believer in freedom of speech.

I know why I care more about Alaa: because I know him. And for many Alaa is simply better-known, and associated with the anti-Mubarak, pro-democracy movement since 2005 at least. He's also a better communicator.

But at the same time it's true that the Maikel Nabil case does not get nearly as much attention. Part of it is that Maikel's initial reputation was built around his pro-Israel views, and his refusal to be drafted into military service because he doesn't want to harm Israel (as well as advice on draft-dodging). It's not just that many Egyptians have anti-Israel views,  but it's also that Mikael's view is perplexing when you consider he defends a civil, secular state and human rights more generally: after all, Israel is hardly a great example of separation of religion and state.

Should any of this matter? I don't think so — at the end of the day, Mikael is the victim of a system of oppression that has sent some 12,000 to military tribunals, reduced freedom of expression and does not allow certain views — including being pro-Israel — from being expressed. And for that, he deserves support.