The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged humanrights
On US aid and human rights in Egypt

For Forbes, Charles Tiefer on some of the main points in a US Government Accountability Office on how the Defense and State Dept. have gone around laws placing restrictions on US aid to Egypt:

The report is a major exploration (77 concentrated pages) of how the U.S. State (and Defense) departments turn a blind eye to measures like, most recently, el-Sisi’s current brutal crackdown which includes recent massive arrests of peaceful protesters, long prison terms for demonstrators, smashing of human rights groups and jailing their attorneys, and the infamous covering-up at the highest levels of the torture-murder of the Italian student, Giulio Regeni.

Throughout the world, U.S. law requires its basic law of aid – known as the “Leahy Law” – that forbids aid to those with credible evidence of human rights abuses.  The GAO studied (for 2011-2015 with aid of roughly $1.3 billion aid to Egypt annually) the workings in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo of the U.S.’s worldwide (for relevant aid receivers) database of rights abusers.  The abuser database did, occasionally, flash red lights about units like the Ministry of the Interior, and, the Cairo police.  There were even infrequent occasions (in Morsi’s time) that the State Department did its job and created barriers or “tensions” about aid going to some abusive Egyptian officials and security units.

But, then, the U.S. system has used many ways, the GAO report showed, to condone the Egyptian government despite abuses.  First, it simply allows Egypt to get away with not responding to questions.  “In a postshipment check involving the transfer of riot control items, such as rubber ball cartridges and smoke grenades, to the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior, the Egyptian government did not respond to a [State Department] question . . . . [Yet]  State closed [this] . . . as favorable.”  “Riot control” sounds like el-Sisi’s version of crushing the demonstrations — what observers reported as peaceful protest.

Second, State was slightly tougher on the Morsi regime ending in 2013, but seems fully to condone the worse abuses of the el-Sisi regime.  The GAO closely analyzed statistical evidence of the vetting of security forces that got coveted U.S.-funded training.  While overall “State rejected” in 2011-2015 “less than 1 percent of the total cases vetted,” the figures for el-Sisi’s time were even more condoning – the State Department “has not rejected any cases since fiscal year 2013, including no cases since the removal of President Morsi in July 2013. (Pages 37-38)”  No cases?  At all? Is this the same Egypt of el-Sisi that is constantly castigated by international human rights groups, and has outraged all Europe by the Regeni matter?

By the way, in what might be deemed the cover-up in Washington of the cover-up in Egypt, State gagged the GAO about telling how bad State was in its delinquency in vetting.  These figures were key to GAO’s blunt conclusion: ‘State and DOD [Defense] are not in compliance with their policies regarding human rights vetting (page 38).”  State gagged GAO this way:  “State deemed our [GAO] estimate of the percentage of Egyptian security forces that were not vetted . . . to be sensitive but unclassified information.  We therefore omitted that information from this report. (page 38)”

You can read the whole GAO report here.

The story of Hamada Saber

Hamada Saber went to the presidential palace at Ettihadia on Friday night with his family to protest against President Morsi. At some point in the evening, he ended up stripped naked and beaten by police. The beating was caught by a satellite television channel and broadcast live, instantly turning into an iconic moment of police brutality like that of the video of the girl with the blue bra in December 2011.

Here's the video if you haven't seen it.

The authorities immediately reacted to the footage, with presidency and interior ministry pledging to investigate the matter and condemning the violence. [Update: here's the NYT coverage of their contrition.] Prosecutors began an investigation into the security forces in the footage. But Hamada Saber was still held overnight on Friday by police, and by the time he was hospitalized he began to give a different version of events, as al-Ahram reports:

However, in a shocking turnaround of events on Saturday, Saber and his wife, speaking from the same police hospital the CSF transferred Saber to in the wake of their assault on him, seemed to blame the protesters for the bulk of the suffering he was subjected to on the previous night.

"I was standing at Roxy Square [near the palace] drinking a soda, when a large number of protesters who mistook me for a CSF officer because of my black attire attacked me and stripped me of my clothes," said Saber.

"The protesters were angered by the fact that I tried to dissuade them from firing bird shots at the police," claimed Saber.

Fathya, the assaulted man's wife who was by his bedside at the police hospital, sent a message of gratitude to the ministry of interior.

"The police are very respectful and are standing by our side, and the minister's assistant for human rights has passed by and will come again tomorrow [Saturday]," Fathya told ONTV.

Moreover, on Saturday night, Saber, told state TV that he was caught in the fight between protesters and the police.

"The protesters fired an unknown bullet at me and robbed me. When I saw the CSF soldiers coming at the crowd, I was scared and I ran. The soldiers chased after me yelling they wanted to help me. When I fell, they caught me and said: 'you gave us a hard time, man.'"

The public prosecutor then began to change tack and began to blame protestors for beating the man — even though the video evidence clearly showed that whatever protestors did, the police clearly hit Saber. Saber is effusively thanking the interior ministry. Everything points to him having been coerced into not pressing charges at the ministry and being cooperative. From al-Ahram, again:

News reports leaked from "investigators" and "authorities" to media outlets throughout the day on Saturday threw doubts in some people's minds on what actually Saber did, what the police did, and what the police wanted the world to think had happened on Friday night.
One report, for example, picked up by a number of online papers said that investigators who were questioning Saber could charge the assault victim with possession of 18 Molotov cocktail bombs and two buckets of gasoline intended for making fire bombs.
Later in the day, the minister of interior reportedly called the victim to apologise on behalf of the ministry and promised to offer Saber, who said he is a day labourer who is constantly short on gigs, a job.
In the early hours of Saturday night, Saber, who seemed to be recovering well at the police hospital, made the rounds on Satellite TV.
In one such interview, Saber told Al-Hayat TV that the police had a good reason to treat him the way they did because he was resisting arrest.
"I understand what they did because the protesters were near and I was giving them a hard time."
As the Al-Hayat reporter pressed Saber to explain how he was being saved by his attackers, the man insisted: I know what is in my best self-interest. Do not instigate serious problems for me."

He does not want problems. One can understand. But it does appear that he is being threatened into shutting up so that the police and the government don't see this turning into the same iconic moment as previous instances of beatings and abuse. Human rights lawyers and his own family (which was on the scene) have kept on saying that he was beaten by police.

In the most surreal part of this sad episode, Hamada Saber and his daughter Randa ended up arguing about what happened to him on a major satellite TV talk show, with Hamada accusing Randa of having taken money from satellite channels to lie about him. Here's the footage:

Whatever happened to Hamada, the police did what it did, and he appears to have been intimidated against blaming the interior ministry as the government worked overtime to carry out damage limitation. Such practice is actually quite typical of what has happened in Egypt for decades, including since the 2011 uprising. If you look at the court cases into police murders during the 18 days of the uprising, you often have officers leaning on the families of the victims to settle out of court or withdraw charges. Not that many have been actually convicted thus far, or that there has been any attempt at creating either a transitional justice process or carry out serious security sector reform thus far — under SCAF or under Morsi.

[Thanks to Ashraf Khalil and Samer Atrush for some of the links used here. Update: here's Ashraf's piece on the incident.]

Update: More surrealism:

And an eye-witness account of the beating.

Egypt: Parliament vs. SCAF

This press release from EIPR is typical of many human rights groups attitude towards Tantawi's semi-abrogation of the Emergency Law last week:

EIPR Urges People’s Assembly to Immediately Vote to End the State of Emergency

In a letter Sent to MPs and Parliamentary Bodies: Field Marshal Tantawi’s Declaration Excepting Crimes of Thuggery is a Perpetuation of the Repressive Practices of the Mubarak State

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) sent a letter this morning to the heads of all political parties' parliamentary bodies, as well as several independent MPs, urging them to immediately and decisively engage with Field Marshal Tantawi’s decision to “end the State of Emergency all over the Republic except when confronting crimes of thuggery.” The EIPR believes this is a perpetuation of the repressive practices of the Mubarak regime and compared Tantawi’s declaration excepting thuggery to Mubarak’s declaration excepting crimes of terrorism and drug trafficking when he extended the State of Emergency in May 2010.

To continue click here.

Do read the letter, which details more steps parliament should take, including reviewing other SCAF decrees and the penal code. Not unrelated, EIPR's director (and an old, old friend of mine) Hossam Bahgat remarks to the AP that parliament has a duty to assume its legislative powers and review decrees issued by SCAF:

Many lawmakers and activists have already demanded that parliament review other military decrees issued since the generals took power last February, including a law banning public protest and strikes, as well as a decision to only partially lift of the hated Mubarak-era emergency laws.

The largely secular and urban activist groups want an immediate end to military rule, and have called for the army to return to its barracks before a constitution be written and a president elected.

“It is primarily a challenge for the (Brotherhood) majority,” said Hossam Bahgat, a human rights lawyer. “If the Brotherhood wants to send a message to its constituency and the public at large they are now an independent and effective legislature, they have no choice but to reopen (discussion) of these decrees.”

That's the outline of one of the political meta-struggles between parliament and SCAF over the next few months.

Questions around HRW's world report

Yesterday HRW released it's latest world report, with much emphasis on the Arab spring and a call on the international community to strengthen its support for democratic transitions. It was launched in Cairo, and I was at the press conference and asked the question in the clip above about Egypt. With so many observers of the Egyptian scene talking about some kind of deal between the new parliament (esp. the Muslim Brothers) and the military, I thought it was worth talking about. HRW's Ken Roth doesn't like the idea, seeing it as a bad start to a democracy.

I also asked about what the West can do, a major theme of Roth's, including about aid conditionality, which I've been a big believer in for years (and indeed the more radical notion of "no reform, no aid of any kind.")

[Thanks DS for making the footage available.]

Kuwaitis Denied Justice in Guantanamo Bay

Jenifer Fenton reports from Kuwait. This month marks the third year that President Barack Obama's campaign promise to "close Guantanamo" (modified soon after his inauguration to close the detention facility by January 2010) will have gone unfulfilled. A chronology of the Obama administration's postponment of the closure can be found at the LA Times.

The worst of the worst, they were called. Twelve Kuwaitis were “captured” in Afghanistan and Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in the months following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Unproven accusations of associations with the Taliban and Al Qaeda robbed them of years of their lives. The 12 said they left Kuwait to do charity work or to teach Islam or to live more Islamic lives. Many were sold to the Americans for bounty and all said they were tortured by US forces.

Eventually 10 would be freed.

It is unclear why eight, including Nasser Al Mutairi (ISN-205), the first Kuwaiti released in January 2005, were transferred home. Al Mutairi said he traveled to Afghanistan for ribat, according to Combatant Status Review Tribunal transcripts:

Ribat means waiting. It's a form of worship, a kind of practice. There is a great reward in my religion for doing ribat. If someone dies while on the line while doing ribat they are considered martyrs and go to heaven. Ribat is the opposite of Jihad because ribat is defending the line and Jihad is attacking the line.

He was in Afghanistan to wait on the border and discourage anyone from making attacks. Al Mutairi said this was similar to what US forces do in Kuwait, they train and keep the peace.

However, upon his release Al Mutairi told the press that the US made up the record of his statements before a military court.

In November of 2005, the Department of Defense also transferred five more prisoners to Kuwait including Adel Al Zamel (ISN 568), who had been a wanted man in his country prior to 9/11. He had been convicted and sentenced to a year in prison for previous charges of assault against a female college student, an attack known as the Takfir Seven Incident.

In Afghanistan, Al Zamel lived with his family and worked for Al Wafa, an Islamic Charity the US said supports terrorism. The US also suggested that he had advanced knowledge of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. Al Zamel, who had eight children, was placed in what looked like a small metal box on his fifth day at Guantanamo. "The cell was hot. I couldn't sleep at night. The pillow was soaked with my sweat. There was a small opening in the cell wall; I used to push my nose to it," Zamel told McClatchy Newspapers. "I used the bathroom on the floor; there was nothing else to do."

Abdulaziz Al Shammeri (ISN 217), released at the same time as Al Zamel, lived a “normal life” before he wound up in Guantanamo. He was married and had two children, who in 2001 were six and two years old. He was an Islamic scholar and worked at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Kuwait. He was planning to get a Master’s degree in Egypt, but decided before doing so he would spend some time teaching Islamic law in Afghanistan. “In my case I don’t even know why I was transferred there (Guantanamo)... and then I have no idea how I was released,” he told me last year. (You can read more about Al Shammeri here)

He too was tortured.

Yes, by God. I was tortured. If the devil would have been there and witnessed these torture sessions, he would... have said ‘how would you come up with such twisted thoughts.’ Satan would say ‘please come on.’ These thoughts would be even surprising to the devil himself.

The following year, in 2006, after a direct appeal by the Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah to then-President George W. Bush, Omar Rajab Amin (ISN 65) and Abdullah Kamel Al Kandari (ISN 228) were freed, according to US embassy files published by WikiLeaks.

Prior to being imprisoned, Amin had attended the University of Nebraska in the US and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. He said he went to Afghanistan after the attacks of 9/11 because he wanted to help orphans and refugees. Charity work was not new for Amin. He had worked in Zagreb, Croatia. “

"The orphans from Bosnia were coming in to a new place, so we would meet with them. We would do many things to make them more comfortable... talking with them, saying kind words, giving them food,and paying for the houses they were staying in,” Amin said according to Guantanamo tribunal transcripts. He then worked for years in Sarajevo. He married a Bosnian woman. When he left his family in Kuwait in 2001, he did not plan to be gone for long. His son was in the hospital and would have heart surgery soon. “It was imperative I returned quickly... I had ... a specific date for [my son's] operation in November, so I had to return quickly.”

Kamel Al Kandari had been a star volleyball player, who played for Kuwait’s national team. Because he was a sports star he had traveled the world, including trips to South Korea, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Lebanon, Egypt and Iran. Al Kandari went to Afghanistan for charity work as well. He was married with four young children, one who was born when he was locked up by the Americans. Al Kandari was captured wearing a Casio watch, model F-91W — that was evidence against him. The US said the watch was a common watch used by Al Qaeda to detonate improvised explosive devices.

“We have two watches in Kuwait, Fossil and Casio. The watch shows the direction of Mecca,” Al Kandari said according to Guantanamo tribunal transcripts. It also had a compass. “I go all over the world. I am Muslim and pray five times a day. I need it. Many people in Kuwait have this watch. It's not tied to an Al-Qaeda company is it? I swear I don't know if terrorist use it or if they make explosives with it. If I had known that, I would have thrown it away. I'm not stupid. We have four chaplains [at Guantanamo] all of them wear this watch. I am not Taliban or Al-Qaeda.”

While US intervention is often decried in the Arab world, Kuwait is in a unique position having been liberated by US forces during the 1991 Gulf War. But that has not stopped the government of Kuwait’s insistence that Kuwaiti prisoners held in Guantanamo should be returned. Kuwait’s leadership has often, according to cables published by WikiLeaks, complained that Guantanamo prisoners of countries who provide far less support to America have had their citizens returned. But as late as June 18, 2008, almost seven years after 9/11, Kuwait said that it has received "not one word" of information or evidence against eight of Kuwait’s former Guantanamo detainees who had been released by then, according to US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks).

Two prisoners — Fouad Al Rabiah (ISN 551) and Khalid Al Mutairi (213) — were ordered released by American courts in 2009. The ruling by which Al Rabiah, an aviation engineer, was freed stated [PDF] the US government’s evidence was “surprisingly bare,” noting that interrogators used “abusive techniques.”

Al Rabiah returned to Kuwait in December 2009. Like Amin, Al Rabiah, now 52, had a documented history of doing charitable work with reputable organizations in Kosovo, Bosnia and Bangladesh. He planned to help people in Afghanistan. Instead, he lost eight years of his life and missed watching his four children grow up. “I lost so many things, but I know that I was right,” he told me. “I know that they were wrong.” The US threatened to use drugs on him and render him to countries where he would be tortured worse than the treatment he received in Guantanamo, he said. He was also subjected to severe sleep deprivation.

All of the Kuwaiti prisoners held at Guantanamo were put on trial and acquitted upon their return to Kuwait, with the exception of Al Rabiah, who had extensive proof of his innocence. A Kuwaiti official told Al Rabiah when he returned to Kuwait, “There is no basis for a case (against you),” Al Rabiah said.

The US “evidence” against Al Mutairi was equally as damning in its lack of substance. “The Government believed for over three years that Al Mutairi manned an anti-aircraft weapon in Afghanistan based on a typographical error in an interrogation report.” (See this report.) Al Mutairi was unmarried and had no children at the time of his captured, but he cared for his elderly parents in Kuwait. He had traveled to Afghanistan with $15,000 that he planned to use to build a mosque.

Kuwaiti prisoner Abdullah Al Ajmi (ISN 220), 23 years old when captured, had trained as a solider in the Kuwait military - the only Kuwaiti prisoner with military experience. Al Ajmi would later blow himself up in a suicide attack in Mosul, Iraq in 2008. (The Washington Post has reported extensively on Al Ajmi.) Had he indeed been radical before 9/11 or was it his time in Guantanamo that made him that way? Perhaps more accurately the prison experience drove him crazy.

Upon returning to Kuwait he had spent time at a mental hospital. It is hard to know what acts and associations Al Ajmi, accused of being a Taliban fighter, freely confessed to and what he was coerced to say. “I couldn't take it. I couldn't bare the threats and the suffering so I started saying things. When every detainee is captured they tell him that he is either Taliban or Al-Qaida and that is it,” Al Ajmi said according to Guantanamo review board transcripts. “I couldn't bare the suffering and the threatening and the pressure so I had to say I was from Taliban.” The US said he was aggressive and non-compliant and held in disciplinary blocks while imprisoned in Guantanamo.

Two Kuwaiti prisoners Fayiz Al Kandari (ISN 552) and Fawzi Al Odah (ISN 232) could be indefinitely detained in Guantanamo Bay, where they linger outside of the reach of the law. Al Kandari has been tortured. He has been threatened with dogs, deprived of sleep, sexually humiliated, placed in stress positions, and subjected to extreme temperatures and loud music, according to what Al Kandari told his military defense attorney Lt.Col. Barry Wingard.

Both Al Kandari and Al Odah said that they went to Afghanistan to do charity work. As I wrote recently, though they stand accused, neither has had a trial - and no trial is scheduled - to determine their guilt or innocence. They have filed habeas corpus petitions challenging the basis of their detention without charges, but their petitions have been denied. (More on their story here)

It is a travesty of justice that Al Odah will not have his day in court as some of the evidence against him is clearly flawed. One of those who “testified” against Al Odah was Guantanamo prisoner Yasin Basardah, who the US decided was not providing credible information and "should not be relied upon," according to a report by the Washington Post. Basardah had previously been addicted to and trafficked drugs and was jailed numerous times in Saudi Arabia, according a Joint Task Force DoD document ).

A US analyst also said it was assessed that Al Odah was in Bosnia between 1994 and 1996, which “indicates detainee has an extensive history with international militant jihad, and based on his age at the time, probable support and encouragement from family members for his participation,” according to a DoD document.

Al Odah would have been 17 years old then and was in high school, according to his father Khalid Al Odah, a retired Kuwaiti Air Force pilot who fought with US forces to help liberate Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. “It is really, really outrageous,” said Khalid Al Odah, who also is the chairman of the Kuwaiti Family Committee, which lobbies for the rights of Kuwait prisoners held in Guantanamo.

But as the law stands now, the cells of Guantanamo will be Al Odah’s and Al Kandari’s homes forever. They will die without ever seeing Kuwait or their families again. That is justice, the Guantanamo way.

Amnesty: the Arab world one year later

Amnesty International has released a new report on the state of human rights in the Middle East a year after the uprisings began. Below are a few excerpts on Egypt and Tunisia.

It is pretty scathing on SCAF’s handling of the transition in Egypt:

On the negative side too, the SCAF maintained the state of emergency continuously in force since 1981 and in September confirmed that it would enforce in full the draconian Emergency Law (Law 162 of 1958) and extend it to criminalize acts such as blocking roads, broadcasting rumours and committing “assault on freedom to work”. These changes directly threaten freedom of expression and association, and the rights to assembly and to strike – and even reverse reforms that the Mubarak government had felt obliged to make by public pressure in recent years.

Other tough new laws were introduced, such as the Law on Thuggery (Law No. 10 of 2011) enacted in March to criminalize intimidation, “thuggery” and disturbing the peace, doubling sentences already prescribed in the Penal Code and providing for the death penalty.

The SCAF further tightened restrictions on media freedom, warning newspaper editors and journalists against publishing anything critical of the armed forces without prior consultation and permission. As well, human rights NGOs were threatened with prosecution if they accepted funding from abroad without prior permission. Journalists, bloggers and judges were investigated by military prosecutors or imprisoned by military courts for criticizing the army’s human rights violations during the uprising and the lack of reform.

Some of the SCAF’s legal changes and policies targeting basic rights reinforced long-standing patterns of serious human rights violations, while others – such as subjecting women protesters to forced “virginity tests” – represented disturbing new forms of abuse.

From the end of February onwards, the armed forces used violence to forcibly disperse protesters on several occasions. They used tear gas and rubber bullets and fired into the air with live ammunition and accused those they detained of looting or damaging public or private property or other crimes.
> Many of those arrested were held only briefly, but others were held for days, sometimes in situations amounting to enforced disappearance. Some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated. In September, a video circulated on the internet showed two detainees being mocked, beaten and subjected to electric shocks with tasers by a group of army and police officers, provoking an outcry. In response, the SCAF said it had ordered an investigation but its outcome had not been made public at the time of writing this report.

On 19 November, riot police forcibly dispersed a sit-in at Cairo’s Tahrir Square by people injured during the “25 January Revolution” who were demanding the transfer of power to civilian rule and to receive reparations. Thousands of protesters gathered in the square in solidarity. Military forces and riot police cleared the square using excessive force, resulting in deaths and injuries of protesters. Protesters once again set up camp in the square in the run-up to the start of the elections on 28 November.

Since the armed forces were deployed on 25 January, referrals of civilians to military courts took place in many governorates and in August, the military judiciary said it had ruled on nearly 12,000 cases. All were convicted ofcharges such as violating the curfew, using violence and possessing weapons. Sentences ranged from several months in prison to the death penalty.

Military courts were also used to try people arrested while protesting and workers on strike, as well as those charged with “thuggery”, destruction of property, theft or assault. Some journalists were charged with “insulting the army”, then released.

The report also notes that while Tunisia had made much better progress, there has been no justice yet for the victims of the police state, whether during or before the uprising:

Regrettably, no significant steps were taken by the new authorities to address the impunity for past human rights violations. Neither the police nor the judiciary, two of the institutions that had been directly responsible for or complicit in serious abuses, were made subject to significant reforms, except that the Interior Ministry dissolved the notorious Directorate for State Security (DSS) – known in Tunisia as the “political police” – in March. The DSS had been infamous for torturing detainees, close surveillance and intimidation of human rights defenders and independent journalists, and imposing restrictions on former political prisoners. The Ministry did not say what would be done in relation to DSS officials, prompting concern that they could escape justice and be transferred into other law enforcement units. In September, the Interior Ministry set out a “road map” for reform of the police, but made no reference to investigations or other action against police responsible for past abuses.

The Fact-Finding Commission set up to investigate human rights abuses committed during the uprising and in its aftermath (the Bouderbala Commission) issued some of its initial findings in July, but had not published its final report at the time of writing (early December 2011). The Commission also said it would not refer cases to the public prosecutor for investigation unless specifically asked to do so by individual lawyers. According to the interim government, at least 300 people died and 700 were injured during the uprising.

Trials, in their absence, of former President Ben Ali and members of his family on charges of corruption and drugs offences began in June. Ben Ali was sentenced later that month to 35 years’ imprisonment for embezzlement and misuse of state funds, and in July to an additional 15 years for drugs- and weapons-related offences. The former President was also among 139 former officials, including former Interior Ministers Rafik Haj Kacem and Ahmed Friaa, who were referred for military trial on charges arising from the killing and injuring of protesters between 17 December 2010 and 14 January 2011. However, families of victims and those injured were still waiting for justice.

Other countries are covered in the report, which you can get at

Citizen M.

The following account, by activist and artist Aalam Wassef, details a meeting with prisoner of conscience Maikel Nabil, who was sentenced to two years in jail by a military tribunal on 14 December 2011 for "insulting the military." It is reproduced here with permission and was originally published on Facebook.

This is an account of my encounter on December 31st with Egyptian blogger and activist Maikel Nabil, arrested by the Supreme Council of Armed forces for opinions he posted on his blog. Maikel is now serving a two years sentence and is enduring inhuman conditions of detention. Since his arrest Maikel has refused to recognize the Military Prosecutor’s ability to judge him. Military trials for civilians have swept the Egyptian revolution with no less than 12,000 arrests since January 28th 2011.

El Marg Prison, 8.40 am. Waiting for Mark, Maikel Nabil's younger brother. Mark arrives carrying three heavy bags containing juices, milk, books, hundreds of sympathy messages, newspapers… An ornamented award certificate reads Istanbul, AHRLY, To Maikel Nabil for his firm commitment to freedom. I read again and stop at the word firm.

As we pass the prison’s porch, we’re immediately identified as Maikel people. Walky talkies start buzzing. Harrassment starts, routine bullying and unwritten administrative measures that Mark denounces vocally, one after the other, fearless.

Our bags and ourselves are searched and scanned, papers are confiscated. We board the traditional yellow wagon-bus that will take us to the visitor's hall. Right and left, all we can see are fields and animals. At the end of this unexpected green road, stands a white, blind, imposing wall, topped with barbed wire and, in the middle of all that whiteness, a small black door.

We watch officers banging at the door, going in, going out, at mothers, sisters and children waiting to be let in.

We wait as well. We give our IDs to Mrs Sabah. Mark knows everybody by their first names. I suddenly remember that he’s been coming here for 9 months and that, each time, he goes through the same bullying, and harassment. We wait ten more minutes and are let into the visitor's hall. Visits end at 12 and it's already 10.30. We wait, surrounded by informants who aren't really hiding from us. Mark asks the warden why Maikel hasn't come yet. Maikel's cell is 40 meters away and all other prisoners have come to their visitors. It's 11.

Maikel finally appears, carrying a plastic chair on which prisoners sit, maybe to be easily identified. I don't know. He comes to us. He can barely carry the light chair he finally puts down. I measure his exhaustion. It's the first time I ever meet him in person. Maikel is tall, pale, underweight, hunched, loosing his hair. His brother and I sit on the cold stone benches. Maikel brings his knees together and slips his hands in between to keep them warm. He's shaking cold. He says hello but is eager to start talking and working his way out of hell.

Mark says he has to leave in 30 minutes to sit for an exam. Time is tight. Maikel takes control of the conversation. I'm struck by the weakness of his body compared to the strength of his mind.

Mark fills him in with the latest news regarding the mobilization and march that was held for him on December 29th 2011. We see a shine in Maikel's tired eyes. Mark shows to his brother some photographs of the march, of the military violence footage youngsters projected on the walls of the Supreme Court of Justice, of this unforgettable charismatic woman wearing a niqab, carrying his picture all through out the march. We tell him about the UN Watch statement signed by 30 Human Rights organizations, about articles pouring in the international press, about Alaa Abdel Fattah who saluted him on ONTV, about students, mothers, fathers, friends, public figures and Egyptian activists who joined the march in solidarity. I give him a glimpse of Ahdaf Soueif marching in Tahrir, Lobna Darwish, Salma Said, Sultan Al Qassemi embracing his brother, Hossam el-Hamalawy and Omar Robert Hamilton filming and taking snapshots, of the thousands of friendly posts in social networks, of Mona el Tahawy tweeting and retweeting at all times of day and night, of this amazing woman who, out the blue, sent us her entire press contact list… I tell him about Tamim Al Barghouti's stance about him and the many unhappy reactions he received.

Maikel addresses me for the first time. I like Tamim's poetry. Sometimes, he snaps.

Mark and I try to convince Maikel to end his strike. We tell him how much mentalities, awareness and commitment have changed. He tells us how much he's in pain. Kidney pain. Maikel adresses me again, privately. I want to tell you something. For nine months, from prison, to hospital, to torture, to prison, I was let down by almost everybody. Opinions are opinions, human rights are human rights, military trials are military trials.

I ask him again to end his hunger strike. Maikel looks at the bags and asks. What did you bring, Mark? Mark responds. Maikel looks at us again. You have to take me away from here. Submit a request today to the General Prosecutor for my immediate transfer to Torah Prison. It's rotten here, people are rotten, cells are rotten, water is rotten, sewage water floods in my cell everyday, I can't bathe. He looks at me and points with his chin at an informant almost glued to me, and at another one sitting in our back. Maikel interrupts the conversation. How are you Abu Alaa! How are you Abu Hemed! Both informants turn around. Their faces break into a corrupt cringe of a smile.

Maikel resumes. I would like Alaa Abdel Fattah to come and visit me. Tell him he might be able to come on January 7th. And Mona Seif from No Military Trials. Tell them I would like to see them. I tell him about a post by Mona Seif saluting him and Mark for their struggle and resilience. The more we speak to Maikel about support, sympathy and commitment, the more I see him sitting straighter and straighter.

Maikel looks at the bag filled with books and pulls them out one by one, quietly. Sitting there, half dead on a plastic chair in El Marg Prison, he looks at each book, with patience and care. You can take that one back, I’ve read it already.

Aalam Wassef Cairo, January 6th 2011

Egypt: An end to virginity tests

Samira Ibrahim, who won first part of her case against the Egyptian military's

From Hossam Bahgat, the director of the excellent NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights:

I have good news (gasp). This morning the Court of Administrative Justice ruled in our favor in the case against army chief for subjecting female protesters to "virginity tests". Court admitted the case and issued an urgent injunction against any future "tests". We now continue the fight to get criminal accountability and compensation for the women.

The above pic is of Samira Ibrahim, a victim of the "virginity tests" last March who took the military to court.

Read more about the case in Daily News Egypt.

No justice for the UAE five

Five activists charged with opposing the Emirati government, inciting demonstrations and insulting the country’s leadership have been sentenced to jail. The rulers of the United Arab Emirates have made it clear they do not welcome public challenges to their absolute authority to rule.

Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent Emirati human rights activist who faced more charges than the others, was sentenced to three years. Four others, including Nasser Bin Ghaith, an academic who has lectured at Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, received two year prison terms. The trial was held in a state security court. The men cannot appeal, according to Mohammed Al Roken, one of the lawyers representing them.

The activists were accused of insulting the Emirati leadership via the website al-Hewar (now down) or Emirates Dialogue Forum, which has been blocked by the UAE since February 2010, according to Al Roken. The charges against them were related to articles posted between July and October of last year. But the five men were not arrested until April 2011, suggesting that UAE authorities wanted to crush even minor dissent in light of the Arab Spring. Also in March of this year Mansoor, a member of Human Rights Watch Middle East advisory committee, was among 133 Emiratis who sent a petition to President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Supreme Council asking for the country to have direct elections and for the Federal National Council to have legislative powers.

Article 176 of the UAE penal code states “any person who insults by any means of publicity the president of the state… shall be punishable by confinement for a period not exceeding five years.”  Article 8 expands the law to include the vice president, members of the Supreme Council of the Federation and crown princes.

Human Rights Watch said in a press release that it had reviewed the messages allegedly posted by the accused and found none “do more than criticize government policy or political leaders. There is no evidence that the men used or incited violence in the course of their political activities.”

In the run up to the FNC elections in the UAE earlier this year, the Emirati leadership, including the President, urged its citizens to participate in broad and active political participation.

Now, in what smacks of hypocrisy, the UAE has imprisoned five men who were doing just that. Furthermore, the men have not received fair treatment. “Since their arrests, these peaceful activists have been subjected to an alarming series of threats and intimidation, with the apparent acquiescence of the Emirati authorities,” according to a report by Charlotte Peevers [PDF], a legal expert. 

The fate of the five was decided perhaps before the trial began. As Bin Ghaith wrote before the verdict:

This trial does not fulfill the minimum requirements of justice… I refuse to be a part of this silly show and become a victim of this falsehood. It appears that the verdict is already given away; we will be punished for giving our opinion on state policy and for declaring our stance towards some state affairs.

The UAE may still pardon the five men, but the country has already demonstrated its distaste for democracy. 

Amnesty: Military crushed revolution

Egypt: Military rulers have 'crushed' hopes of 25 January protesters | Amnesty International:

Egypt's military rulers have completely failed to live up to their promises to Egyptians to improve human rights and have instead been responsible for a catalogue of abuses which in some cases exceeds the record of Hosni Mubarak, Amnesty International said today in a new report.
In Broken Promises: Egypt's Military Rulers Erode Human Rights, the organization documents a woeful performance on human rights by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) which assumed power after the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in February.

This is the most scathing indictment of the military's role during the transition I've seen from any mainstream group.

Egyptian NGOs say no to SCAF

NGOs Refuse to Meet with Governing Authorities - six leading Egyptian NGOs say no more legitimization of SCAF and its agents:

The undersigned human rights organizations refuse to participate in the meeting called today by Dr. Ali Salmi, Deputy Prime Minister for Political Development and Democratic Transition, in order to discuss criteria for selecting a Constituent Assembly to draft the constitution. We refuse to attend any other meetings of this kind until the government of Dr. Essam Sharaf and the military council prove their respect for the dignity and rights of the Egyptian people. Under this government and military council, thousands have been subjected to unjust military trials, and torture has increased whilst perpetrators go unpunished. Smear campaigns have targeted the very civil society organizations which helped uncover and address the crimes of the former dictator Hosni Mubarak — apparently in revenge for their concern for the dignity and rights of the Egyptian people.

. . .

The undersigned human rights organizations say: 'We established our credibility with the Egyptian people through years of hard work resisting the dictatorship and addressing practices which violated human rights. Regardless of the military council and government's position towards us, we will not participate in discussions which, ten months after the fall of Mubarak, begin to look less and less serious. It is out of question to discuss a constituent assembly to draft the constitution with the government and military council. Their prisons are packed with hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens. Their people have paid the price for a society which respects the rights and dignity of humans with the blood of their children. And members of this government and council continue to evade punishment for their crimes, falsehoods, and incitement against the Egyptian people.'

It's worth noting that even the very official National Council for Human Rights (not a signatory) issued a report on the Maspero affair that clearly put some of the blame on the military. It seems Egyptian civil society is, perhaps belatedly, taking a stance against SCAF and questioning its legitimacy.

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.

Another letter from Alaa from, and on, prison

Alaa Abdel Fattah, the Egyptian blogger and activist who has been jailed for refusing to answer the questions of a military prosecutor about the Maspero Affair, has been shifted to another cell. In another heart-breaking dispatch from prison, he explains why:

I am writing this note with a deep sense of shame. I have just been moved from Ist’naf (appeal) prison, at my request and insistence, because I simply couldn’t withstand the difficult conditions there: because of the darkness, the filth , the roaming cockroaches, crawling over my body night and day; because there was no courtyard, no sunshine and, again, the darkness.

However, what I couldn’t stand, above all, was the revoltingly toilets. I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t navigate my way around the filthy, door-less, overcrowded toilets. So I spent my first five days simply “keeping it in”. Until I could take no more.

I found Nouara’s piece, celebrating my “manliness”, confusing, but Najlaa Budeir’s article reminded me how, in my previous stint here, my blog was my refuge, the sanctuary where I could be brutally candid with myself.

So yes, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t “man up” and bear it, even though I knew only too well that thousands were bravely and stoically enduring far worse conditions, even though I never had to suffer the untold horrors of military prisons, nor was I ever subjected to the torture meted out to those comrades of mine who had been sent down to the military courts.

And so, I let my Maspero protest comrades, my fellow prisoners facing the wrath of the ministry of defence, as well as other political detainees, down. I let down all those prisoners who had been moved, upon seeing the mayhem and fracas that my presence had been causing, to come and speak to me, sharing their tales of the horrors endured at the hands of the interior ministry, all so that I could tell the outside world about it. They were overjoyed that someone was going to speak up about the baltagia and the gangs.

Yet, I left them behind, because of dirty toilets.

Read the rest here.

In Translation: Alaa Abdel Fattah on Meena Daniel

We have a special article for this week's translated commentary from the Arabic press, provided as always by the full-service translation firm Industry Arabic.

Alaa Abdel FattahA few days ago, the Egyptian military announced that the activist and blogger (and pioneering geek) Alaa Abdel Fattah and another activist, Bahaa Saber, were being summoned by the military prosecutor. No reason was given why, but the summons came soon after an article by Abdel Fattah came out in al-Shorouk newspaper in which he gives a heart-rending testimony of the death of activist Meena Daniel at Maspero on October 9 and puts blame at the feet of the military.

Meena DanielThis article, reproduced below in English, was circulated widely on Facebook and elsewhere. It is possible that Abdel Fattah and Saber are being summoned on accusations of inciting violence at Maspero, but equally possible that this article pushed the military to act. These latest actions by the military council, even after it claims that the use of military tribunals will stop, shows the increasingly authoritarian way in which the military is acting and mounting pressure on mainstream media as well as activists to end public criticism of the SCAF.


By Alaa Abdel Fattah, al-Shorouk, 20 October 2011

A couple days spent at the morgue. A couple days amid the corpses of those struggling to preserve their martyr status, fighting against the Mubarak regime in its entirety; not just against Mubarak’s military who ran them over, not just against Mubarak’s media machine which denied them the honor of martyrdom and turned them into mere killers, and not just against Mubarak’s judicial system which denied them their rights.

These corpses are fighting to preserve the glory of their martyrdom in the gloomy morgue of a poor government hospital. They are fighting against the insanities of the Mubarak era claiming that an autopsy would harm the sanctity of the deceased and won’t bring them the triumph they deserve. They are fighting against the domination of the sultan’s theologians and priests who want us to believe that those seeking justice in this life are abandoning their right for justice in the afterlife. They are fighting against Mubarak’s politics of division, which made the poor believe their enemies lie among the poor, thus turning their attention away from those embezzling their daily bread.

A couple days spent with merciful death and merciless shame. My God, why do most of our martyrs belong to the poor? How were they discerned by the tank and the gun? Don’t we all bear the same blood and lie in the same grave? Still, it seems we have let the martyrs down, over and over again.

Our Egypt is incredible. It only picks the best of us. Meena Daniel was its right choice. It was him who sealed our triumph in the morgue.

Blessed are the meek

They came to the hospital by the hundreds, searching for wounded bodies to treat and murdered bodies to bury. They came searching for a shelter from the night that embodied all their fears. They came searching for anyone willing to share their anger and seeking strength in numbers. They came as the “church’s flock.” The hospital was surrounded by plainclothes assailants (perhaps these are the honest citizens cheered day and night by Mubarak’s military?), backed by the defenders of our security and revolution, seeking to assure these people that their only hope is to belong to the church’s flock.

We came looking for our friend from the Square, the guy with the charming smile, Meena, who belongs to us and to whom we belong. Martyrdom chose Meena as he belongs to the church’s flock as much as to the revolution. These were the words of his family members who insisted on involving his buddies in every decision – we are his buddies after all. Meena struggled from his afterlife hoping we’d be accepted by the families of the martyrs, making us a group of comrades in the same struggle. We all bleed and weep the same, don’t we? Just as the truth – hushed on television stations – kept sprinkling out of the tears of the mothers of martyrs, it shows in our tears. They understood we were Meena’s buddies; that was enough for them to forget to ask our names in their usual suspicious manner.

So the hospital issued its report on the Maspero incident: did they die of cardiac arrest or was there a fight? The priests came forward with their advice: let’s bury them quickly as it’s hot outside and there is no refrigeration in the morgue. This is where we intervened, strong with the arrogance and naïveté of our revolt: What about justice? What about punishment? This is our last chance to uncover the criminals; we need the forensic report.

How insane this was of us! Do we really mean to ask for an autopsy in our quest for justice we have never seen before, not even once? Not even by coincidence? What justice are we seeking, we, the poor? What justice are we seeking, we, the Copts? What justice are we seeking from the criminals ruling us? Don’t you understand that we’re vulnerable?

Still, Meena was one of us. His sister was the first to agree to an autopsy and this was enough to convince others, one after another. They were reluctant and we were insistent. Lawyers encouraged us amidst hours of weeping, hugs and debates. We were running against the clock, bringing every ice cube and every miserable fan we could find, hoping that our affection would be enough to maintain the purity of the bodies.

The next morning, the prosecutors arrived to find half of the families demanding an autopsy. This is when the noble judge issued his rule: I could either issue burial permits or forensic requests, aren’t we all equal in death? Of course, the priests were here to spice up the atmosphere: our monsignor will celebrate the mass for their companions in a short while; so you’d better hurry before it’s too late. Have mercy on your children, their reward in Paradise is grand.

We stood unified in our fight against the regime. This time, however, the battle field has changed. This time, it’s about reason, logic and compassion. We made it in defeating the regime which faced our resolute rows of anger, bricks and solidarity. This time, however, we needed to lead a long debate before the prosecutor agreed to an autopsy for all the corpses… provided that we take charge of the forensic work.

What a sad truth this is turning to be! We had, first, to manage the security of our demonstrations. Next, things evolved and we had to ensure the smooth running of public facilities. Now, we have the duty of ensuring the work of public servants, on behalf of the government! Why, thus, would we bother to ask the police and the army to do their job. After all, it shows clearly on the corpses of our martyrs.

We had the families understand that the autopsy is a lengthy procedure. Thus, it was wise to move the corpses to the Zeinhum morgue where the services are convenient. Fear invaded the place again; it’s true that Meena made them believe in our country, still, rumors never stopped spreading while the gangs of “gentlemen” standing outside kept on terrorizing the crowds all night long. While we didn’t admit it openly, we got the message: We won’t leave the Coptic neighborhood because God knows what evil awaits us over there.

So we had to secure the hospital. We had to ensure appropriate working conditions for the forensic team. We had to evacuate thousands of scared souls from the building and control the reactions of thousands of angry people. There were just a handful of us to manage this whole procedure. Ironically, we had to assume the role of the Central Security Forces too. It seems we have a new battlefield to take over with our only weapon being our solidarity.

The forensic team started its mission, guarded by us and supervised by our lawyers and doctors, our unseen soldiers who experienced all kinds of injustice and who knew how to unveil evidence of murder, torture, crimes and massacres, much better than forensic experts. The team began its work while we were frightened by the idea of letting a family member see the infuriating scene of a scalpel cutting through the corpse of a dear son. We were frightened by the idea of seeing our ranks crumble in the face of the “gentlemen” attacks or the outrage of the bereaved.

My kingdom is not of this world

It is true that the unity of our ranks worries all those opportunists; the traders of the cause being the most treacherous of them all. They are everywhere around us: Do you really trust this lawyer? She’s so young and unproven… I have a much broader experience, and who are these? All of these are Muslims! How could you trust them? You have warned us for months, dear Meena, when you said: it is crucial that Maspero joins forces with Tahrir Square. It is crucial that the demands of the Copts remain the demands of the people and vice-versa. The choice is so hard, dear Meena. While the oppressive authorities are hitting indiscriminately, these opportunists know well how to hit where it hurts most. So we spent the rest of the day fighting their deceitful rumors and fake accusations. Our goal was to return confidence and tranquility to the souls of our people.

In the beginning, we assumed a role we thought was similar to that of the Central security forces. We soon realized how both roles were so different. I will never understand how security forces anywhere in this world could believe that violence is the way to bring discipline back into masses of angry or scared citizens. I also wonder who recommended to the world’s governments that using guns and bullets in the face of the masses would deter them. The only thing we thought of as a weapon in front of the waves of anger surrounding us was our chests. We threw ourselves in front of the crowds and we cried for our martyrs. This is how we were able to drive out the delusions of a sectarian military reality and to spread the truthful dream of a free Egypt.

Dear Meena, our revolution is so fragile! Any stray bullet could topple it. Dear Meena, our revolution is so strong! One powerful sole would suffice to save it. Dear Meena, you made me grasp the teachings of the prophets. When will the military do the same? As soon as the forensic team started its work, complaints started on the lack of means, on the poor circumstances and on the nuisance of the surrounding guards. Still, the team had to accomplish its mission. When it was known that the team is almost done with the autopsy and is about to put up its report on the causes of death, someone began spreading rumors of false reports being prepared. Since the cause of death could refer to a single mortal wound, while the corpses are filled with scores of them, this was enough for the families of the martyrs to believe what they heard, and it was enough for the waiting crowds to burst in outrage. This was also enough to cause our ranks to collapse.

On the brink of victory, we found ourselves facing the toughest ordeal. The families believed in the dream of justice; they let us dissect the corpses of their sons while they delayed the funeral mass that was to be celebrated by the monsignor, which led in turn to another night’s delay of the burial. They made all the sacrifices we asked of them despite their initial reluctance. Now, they demand assurances; they want to experience the justice they are after. In return, all we had for them was a bunch of incomprehensible technical and legal stuff. Indeed, why does the report say run over by a “heavy vehicle” when truth is clear and we all know it was an armored tank? Why doesn’t it say it was an armored tank? Why is there a mention of fiery projectiles? Why is there no mention of “security service bullets”? Haven’t we been promised justice? Why can’t we read the name of the criminal who is known to all of us?

I didn’t grasp the victory we achieved while we were inundated by tons of details. At one moment in time, I looked around and saw that our unified ranks gained the sympathy of the hospital staff, the doctors and the priests! What have you done, dear Meena? Is it the vulnerability of our families that awakened their conscience or is it your strength that burst out their imagination? Did we really succeed in overcoming all these obstacles in just a few hours? I can claim that even the forensic doctors joined our ranks too. The only solution was to sit with each family, explain the causes of death and point out the details that will be shown in the forensic report. That’s in addition to explaining the role of the prosecutor and lawyers. Our unity was contagious enough to attract the forensic doctor who forgot he was just a public servant and who made himself our judicial representative. When he sat with the families and explained the content of the reports, something he was only used to doing with the powerful class, he may have remembered that justice is always by the side of the vulnerable. I saw them describe the features of the martyrs to their families, a way to make them believe that they are not just corpses and to prove that they know them and care for their memory. I finally witnessed the dream, for which you reached martyrdom turn into reality, even for a short moment.

On our way to the church, our victory was total. None bothered to check who carried the martyrs and who led the acclaim. Was it a Muslim who was shouting “We either bring them justice or we die like them”? What a silly question. Don’t we all have the same blood and cry out the same tears?

Turn the other cheek

Before moving to the Coptic hospital, we were in another hospital, away from the battle scene, waiting for the X-ray of Ahmed’s foot, injured with a live bullet.

We picked up Ahmed from Talaat Harb Street while he was trying to save his homeland by joining his companions gathered in the Tahrir Square. The fall of our martyrs had happened just a few hours earlier. Our youth did not bother to have a count and see which group outnumbers the other. They did not either think about what action to take in the face of the “unarmed” forces (according to the press conference) showering them with bullets.

They were only worried about the gravity of events that might follow if they left the Square to the demonstration of mercenaries shouting “Islamic! Islamic!”… a demonstration organized with the blessing of the army and the police. We all knew it was a fabricated demonstration, an attempt to bring a civilian touch to a military-driven massacre, thus directing the blame towards the Salafis.

We saw in Ahmed a mythical hero when he resisted his friends and refused to be hospitalized claiming that his wound is superficial and is just an impact of a tiny projectile. Still, we managed to convince him and take him away on our shoulders. On our way by taxi to a private hospital, away from the events’ scene, he told us how he was arrested and tortured by the “honest” military and how he was allowed a “fair” trial in a military tribunal. He told us how he got shot during the Abbassiya battle of treachery. His injuries did not prevent him from rejoining his companions who were facing the horror of live bullets.

Once at the hospital, and after we confirmed he was hit by live bullets and not just tiny projectiles, we were visited by a police investigator. Ahmed’s resolution was impressive, replying cold-bloodedly and defiantly to the officer’s questions. He impressed us further when he showed his disgust following the officer’s asking his name: “So you’re a Muslim”… Would he have refused his release from the hospital if he were e a Christian? The only moment during which Ahmed showed his vulnerability, just like ours, was when he cried while the doctor was sterilizing his wound. We haven’t noticed his young age until he replied with fear to his mother calling him on his mobile: “Maspero? What do I have to do with that Mum? I’m hanging out with my friends…”

Does Major General Hamdi Bedeen realize that some of us fear our loving mothers more than they fear bullets and tanks? Did the Marshal hear us shout “O Marshal, O Marshal, here comes another bridegroom from Tahrir” while taking Meena on his last visit to the square? Does anyone of the military realize the deep meaning out of seeing the mother of Khaled Said visiting the mother of Meena Daniel? Or did they forget the value of blood, tears, hugs and dreams? They no longer have a place amongst us but we are more tolerant towards those who let us down in the beginning.