I’ve often stared at a blank page recently, just as blankly as the uniform whiteness looked back at me, as I thought how to smear it with something meaningful. My words sometimes flow, but most times I’m filled with the thought of what little they will do. Even now, the futility of addressing those that refuse to be addressed persists in the back of my head as I try to write.
It is unfortunate that I have to think often of those who do not want to read my words, but it is they, with their complacency and blind support for injustices, who have allowed my friends to be targeted, assaulted and locked in cages without having done wrong. It has come to my attention that it’s not just the oppressor who is to blame, but it’s the multitude who have chosen not address injustices and cheer them on that protects him.
I have time and time again engaged with those I would rather not address, in the hope of lobbying for my imprisoned and tortured friends. I have taken numerous routes but they have all failed. I can sense that some, including those who know me well, want me locked up with the others. The more bearable of them have responded that we have no choice but to allow these atrocities, because “you and your friends have failed”.
How did I and a group of other people suddenly all become an entity? When did my friends and I become responsible for ridding this country of its injustices, I wonder? Was it the minute we saw it? Was it the minute we voiced it? Was it the minute we experienced it? I cannot place that moment in time when I was lumped up with others who share my values as guardians of the country to fix a brutal police force without any guns, or a crony military without any command, or an unjust judiciary without any power. I cannot place that moment when we had to rid bureaucracy of its deep corruption, or put the corrupt businessmen in check.
I cannot place the moment when, all of a sudden, seeing things for what they are put me in a certain camp and demanded more of me than it did of others cheering on brutality. I’ve always thought of myself as an individual, but seeing things in a manner different to those who seek the status quo has earned me a place of blame.
I do not want to count how many of the people I know personally are targeted, assaulted, put in prison. Many I’ve known well, some our paths crossed often, even more close friends to my friends. I do not want to count because it will be sad and seemingly finite for what seems like infinite injustice. Many are not as well known to others as Alaa Abel Fattah, Yara Sallam, Sanaa Seif and Mahienour El-Massry, but they are no less valuable. Among those imprisoned are some of the finest and bravest people I’ve come to know across the world, and I’ve done my fair share of travelling.
It is not a coincidence that the finest are in jail or targeted. They are there because of that. Many are not just a case of an unfortunate loss of people with integrity who have been sentenced for other reasons. They are in there because of their positions and their integrity.
From those who will not listen to my words and reasoning, I have been asked why I even bother about what silly things greedy men with power do. On the one hand, I care because there are many people I know behind bars, suffering the extreme heat of the summer and the harsh winter cold, next to other, things I don’t even want to begin to imagine. On the other hand, I see myself in others who may have shared this same fate and I care because I would not wish such a tragedy upon myself, and if it happens, I would wish at the very least that others remember me and speak on my behalf.
I still care and speak because they are even more voiceless than I am. My words mean nothing to those who wish to imprison an entire generation, and their supporters, but perhaps they will mean something to the unjustly targeted in some bizarre cosmic manner that I do not comprehend. I write some words, knowing how unwilling the people I want to address are to listen.
Many friends who have seen me vocal have approached me worriedly. “Take it down a notch,” they said. “We’re worried about you”.
Whether they support the regime or not, they understand the brutality of the regime and how vicious they can be if they target someone. They may kidnap, jail, falsify charges, they may assault, perform a legal or criminal activity depending on how much they are angered or view my expression as risk. They have done all the aforementioned before, and there are few reasons why they won’t do this again, because in most cases, they can get away with it.
To be silent at a time when others I’ve known have paid much more than just fear of harm seems cowardly. My usual silence is out of despair or inability to express something meaningful, but it should not be fear of harm, particularly with no direct imminent threats.
Even now, I say nothing of value, just an expression of where I’m at, with nothing new to offer those I would have loved to address. But what if I had to say something to which they would listen? What would it be?
I would say: Your values and beliefs are worth something, they can crown the oppressor and hurt the innocent. Your fears, your thirst for survival, they’re not excuses to support the crucifixion of those who hold ideas and values contrary to yours, or to look away nonchalantly telling yourselves there’s nothing you can do. The choice between morals and survival is a false choice, and we can still survive salvaging some of our humanity.
I would tell them the law by which thousands have been arrested is not applied uniformly or justly, and we’ve seen the enforcers of the law break it and escape its unjust punishment. I would tell them, there are those detained without charge, targeted brutally without cause and there are those who have committed heinous crimes yet are permitted to walk free.
Yet those I want to talk to don’t have ears for my words, don’t visit the sites I do, don’t believe the things I do, don’t feel the things these words are meant to make them see.
Wael Eskandar is an independent journalist and blogger based in Cairo. He is a frequent commentator on Egyptian politics and has written for Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Counterpunch, and Jadaliyya, among others. He blogs at notesfromtheunderground.net