An Open Letter from a Cairo Prison Cell
Alaa Abdel Fattah, a real symbol of the youth protest movement in Egypt, has been in prison for more than two weeks. He refuses to appear before a military court because he wants to protest against the fact that an increasing number of Egyptian civilians are being sentenced by military courts under the new government.
"For the past three years, I have spent Eid-ul-Adha far away from my family because I was living abroad. The first day of the festival took place just like any other day: we went to work in the morning and came home late in the evening. If it hadn't been for a telephone call from my family wishing us a blessed festival, we wouldn't even have known it was a religious holiday.
This year was to be of special significance for me. It would have been the first time since our return that we would spend the festival with our family. But the military felt that we did not have the right to celebrate, and so I spent the day in a prison cell. My family spent the whole day in an endlessly long queue just so that some of them could spend a few minutes visiting me – under the watchful eye of a large group of policemen.
Because of the conversation with my mother, who is on hunger strike because of my imprisonment, and because I was overcome with a feeling of despair at not being allowed to exchange letters with my wife Manal, I had no cause for celebration on this religious festival.
Because the prison staff and soldiers there were given time off to celebrate Eid-ul-Adha, there were only half as many people working in the prison. That meant four days shut inside the cell: no visits, no breaks, no newspapers, and not even food brought in by visitors. … "What? Do you want the criminals to celebrate, too? "
If it hadn't been for your tweets, which I received in the form of telegrams, I wouldn't have known that people were celebrating a holiday in the outside world. I want to thank everyone who made the effort to send me something and to thank those who came up with the idea.
The religious festival is now over; my birthday is coming up soon. I haven't been able to celebrate my birthday with my family for four years. And this year is a particularly important birthday – I turn 30. It serves as a confirmation that once and for all I am a member of the world of adults. I had intended to celebrate my birthday on 18 November, only a few days before the birth of my first child, first with my friends from the revolution on Tahrir Square and then with my family.
My birthday will fall on a Friday – a holiday – so there will be no visitors, and the cell door will remain shut. You should celebrate on the square for me.
The only joyous moments I have are when I hear about your solidarity, whether it is the demonstrations held in front of the prison (which I unfortunately do not get to experience, as my cell is on the other side of the prison, but other prisoners have told me about them) or the demonstrations against the military court cases that are taking place everywhere from Luxor to Alexandria. And then there are the protests in Oakland and San Francisco. The demonstrators in these cities hold a very special place in my heart, as I made a short trip there and took part in their sit-in and their meetings.
Eid-ul-Adha is over now and my birthday will soon have past. I am used to spending both of these occasions far away from my family. But what about the birth of my first son, Khaled. How can I miss that? How will I be able to bear not being with my wife Manal at this time? How will I be able to endure waiting for news of whether she is alright or not? How will I be able to stand not seeing the face of my son and the face of his mother looking down upon him? How will I be able to look my son in the eye when I am released. After all, I had promised him that he would be born a free person. We have named him Khaled, because we are in Khaled Said's debt. Yet, instead of putting Khaled's murderers in prison, it is I who sit in jail."
© Alaa Abdel Fattah 2011
Translated from the German by John Bergeron
Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de