Letters from prison: Political activists caught between hope and uncertainty

Toqa Ezzidin
6 Min Read
Alaa Abdel Fattah released on an EGP 5,000 bail (AFP PHOTO/STR)

In the wake of the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, detained political activists have sent letters from their prisons to revive the memory of the Egyptian spirit, in which they expressed their opinions over the events in the five years since.

Blogger and political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah wrote a letter to The Guardian on the fifth anniversary of the revolution, in which he said that five years ago, this revolution should have been taken seriously.

“On that day, I wasn’t even sure a revolution was happening in Egypt. I feared it would fizzle out even as I wrote about a new form of youthful pan‑Arabism,” Abdel Fattah said.

After Hosni Mubarak stepped down, authorities tried to negotiate with the revolutionaries to take charge of the path of events in the place of the youth. According to Abdel Fattah, people considered the revolution as the breaker of the “fear barrier”. He however considered it the breaker of the “despair barrier”.

“I did all the silly things over-optimistic revolutionaries do: I moved back to Egypt permanently,” he said. “I had a child, founded a startup, engaged in a series of progressive initiatives aiming at more popular, decentralized and participatory democracy, broke every draconian law and outdated taboo, walked into prison smiling and walked out of it triumphant.”

According to Abdel Fattah, the government in 2013 committed the largest crime against humanity in Egypt during the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in and the barriers of fear and despair were once again erected.

Abdel Fattah said he was back in prison again, three months after the massacre. He called on the revolutionaries to admit defeat and let go of optimism, which became a danger because it encourages people to take sides and both sides did not serve the real goals of the revolutions.

Abdel Fattah wrote that he believes the revolution has nonetheless won the final battle, because the supporters of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi do not even believe that prosperity is coming soon.

“The sense of possibility was real. It may have been naive to believe our dream could come true, but it was not foolish to believe that another world was possible. It really was. Or at least that’s how I remember it,” Abdel Fattah concluded his letter.

Abdel Fattah will serve five years in prison on charges of violating the protest law in November 2013.

Political activist Mahienour El-Massry also sent a letter on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the revolution, in which she said that even in her cell, she is still filled with hopes and dreams.

El-Massry said many people believe that the revolution was defeated, whilst others believe that the revolution is the best thing that could have happened. In her opinion, however, Egyptians are still on the journey to build a humane and just society.

“We made mistakes sometimes, we were defeated sometimes, we were arrogant sometimes and hopeless at other times but we are still in the fighting ring,” she said.

She explained that what happened taught people some lessons; the first of which is that there is no individual salvation and attempts of escaping are not going to help. Not only are innocent political activists behind bars but there are also innocent citizens who were framed or have fallen into debt or are serving sentences instead of others.

“The revolution is humane by nature and causes us to reject injustice, so if we accept injustice against one person, it reaches all of us,” she said. “The honour of trying is not sufficient. Believers in freedom have to unify themselves, just as the counter revolution unites the others.”

El-Massry concluded her letter by saying that “the revolution is ongoing just as life and dreams are ongoing”.

Mahienour El-Massry was sentenced to one year and three months in prison earlier this year over charges of breaking into Al-Raml Police station, demonstrating violence, and assaulting policemen in Alexandria 2013 during the era of the ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

The anniversary also marks the detention of Mahmoud Mohammed, who was arrested two years ago for wearing a t-shirt that had “A state without torture” printed on it. According to his brother, Tarek, Mahmoud completes his detention in remand on Monday and should be released. He also said he has hope that Mahmoud will be released among those pardoned by Al-Sisi on the anniversary, but he highly doubts that the news of the pardons is true.

Five years from the revolution, Tahrir Square is almost void of any revolutionaries. There is high presence of security forces all across the squares and downtown area, despite the absence of calls for protests to revive the revolution.

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