The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Message to Tantawi


TV presenter Mahmoud Saad presented Fadl's statement to the Field Marshal on air

Popular young screenwriter and columnist Bilal Fadl had a column in the newly established Tahrir newspaper last week, taking the head of the military council that rules Egypt, Field Marshal Tantawi, to task, and using some of the strongest language and imagery I've seen anywhere. Coming at the end of Ramadan, the column is both an implicit plea for clemency for the thousands of civilians condemned by military tribunals in the last six months, and a scolding, loaded with religious imagery, that daringly indicts the Marshall personally for the army's human rights abuses, reminding him that one day he will have to answer for them to his Maker. Most of the column is translated (by myself, and therefor amateurly) below:

I know that God is all-mighty and all-powerful, and that it is in his hands alone to decide who is the oppressor and who the oppressed. But I also know that you are responsible for the state of the country now, and that it’s my duty to let you know that young people face injustice at the hands of your men. Maybe you don’t know this because you don’t read the reports of rights groups, maybe because they tell you that they are biased and funded from abroad, and maybe some of them are, but I know with full certainty that most of them have taken it on themselves for long years to side with the wronged and expose the unjust; and your duty as a ruler is to listen to what they say and investigate.  Perhaps you are concerned with what you see as more important matters, in a country shaken by crises and problems, but do you remember with me the Caliph Raashed Omar Ibn El Khitaab, who feared that God would ask him about a female mule that tripped because he didn’t smoothen her way? Is there a greater recognition by any leader in history of political responsibility for everything that takes place in his era? Aren’t you afraid that God will ask you about the citizens who face torture and humiliation, who are submitted to military courts because of their political opinions which -- no matter how excessive or defiant they may be -- do not make them lose their right to appear before a regular civilian judge? And who says that all those who appear before military judges are really thugs or criminals -- just because they belong to poor backgrounds or because their faces bear the signs of ill-nourishment or because their stumbling step is their downfall with an officer who doesn’t fear God? 

I beg you to read the alarming testimony that the Nadeem Center published on the torture that citizens faced at the hands of the military police and the officers of the War Prison. I paused at the testimony of a young man who was arrested in front of Omar Makram Mosque. An officer insulted his religion and his mother; soldiers hit him and his colleagues with their shoes and told them “So you’ll stop saying: Down with the Field Marshal.” He replied to them: “The army isn’t the [Supreme] council [of the Armed Forces], that would mean that if the Field Marshal died, Egypt would die;” the military man answered: “The Field Marshal doesn’t die.” That’s how the soldier answered without thinking, whereas if he had a little he would have remembered that you inevitably will die, and if he’d asked you you would have told him you will die; all of us will die and will stand before God and his justice to be questioned on our mistakes and our crimes. I know calling for your ouster angers you (and let me tell you that it doesn’t make me personally happy, not just out of consideration for your person and your role in siding with the revolution, but also because I consider it an impractical slogan that may have a negative effect on military institutions, whose unity and strength is in the interest of Egypt, whatever the mistakes of their leaders). But let me ask you, sir: Do you think the young man chanting against you or against the military council does so because there is something personal between him and you, him and the SCAF? Why didn’t this young man chant these slogans right after Mubarak’s ouster on February 11or until March 9, when the human rights violations began, the violations of the right of young people to express their political opinion, aiming at nothing more than making this country better? 

What happened, Mr. Field Marshal? How was trust lost? Who is responsible for this? Whatever the justifications and the excuses may be, does anything excuse military police beating and humiliating young people; does anything justify the warden of the Hadra jail forcing them to crawl on the piss-covered floor and expose their nakedness to each other? Have you read the testimony of the activist Mohammed Mansour, who a military court exculpated of the charge of attacking the northern military district? If you haven’t read it, than I beg you to read it and the dozens of trustworthy testimonies of other young men and women; I myself have delivered some of these testimonies to the Prime Minister and to military leaders -- and yet there has been no punishment for these abominable acts. 

I am one of those who believes that escalation against the army harms more than it helps, but I also believe that “he who doesn’t speak out the truth is a mute devil” and that God will hold me accountable if I pass the violation of a person’s dignity in silence. And I am just a writer; how will the matter be with you, sir, who are responsible before God for all that happens in Egypt now? I don’t know what your stance towards the torture and human rights violations that happened in the days of Mubarak was, and I don’t want to know, for you may argue before God that this was not your responsibility; but you cannot do that now, for you are responsible for every injustice that happens in Egypt, with your knowledge or without. I sincerely advise, as God is my witness and yours, not to trust the security apparatus that you inherited from Mubarak, for you’ve seen what they’ve done with Egypt and where they’ve taken it. Listen to your citizens’ stories directly, receive them in your office and ask them to tell you what they’ve seen and lived, don’t have intermediaries between yourself and them, for there will be no intermediaries between yourself and God on the day of judgement. May God be my witness, I seek no heroism through my words, for the time of individual heroism has passed and we now live in an era of peoples’ heroism. All I hope is that you will go down in history as the military leader who didn’t just transfer power to civilians but safeguarded the dignity of Egyptians and upheld their rights and protected their freedoms. And if you are not concerned with history books -- which will never forget all that happens, for good or ill, in this time -- then be concerned with the ledger in which your good deeds and evil deeds are recorded, to be read before God on the day of judgement.