From his prison cell, prominent Egyptian revolutionary Alaa Abdel Fattah sent a message to his supporters asking them to celebrate his 30th birthday this week in a planned million-man march in Tahrir Square.
In his latest blog note, he said he’d be missing out on birthday celebrations, Eid festivities and perhaps most importantly, the birth of his son.
“So Eid passed, and my birthday will pass, I’m used to spending them away from the family. But the birth of Khaled, my first son, how can I miss it?” the imprisoned blogger wrote. He has been detained since November on charges related to insulting the Egyptian military and inciting violence at the Maspero attacks last month.
Alaa continued: “How can I bear not being next to Manal [his wife] at this time? How can I bear waiting for news, waiting to hear if they’re okay or not? How can I bear not seeing his face, not seeing his mother’s face when she sees his?”
Alaa’s previous blog entries have told a journey awash with moral anxieties, questioning whether he should be called a “real man” after refusing to put up with repulsive prison conditions.
“I am writing this note with a deep sense of shame,” he said in his blog dated Nov. 5, translated from Egyptian Arabic.
“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 revolting 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.
“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.”
Alaa recognized he was only one of the estimated 12,000 Egyptian civilians to be hauled up before military courts since February’s army rule began after the ouster of the former government. His celebrity status has made it easier, however, to mobilize a campaign against his arrest. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) face the wrath of Alaa’s supporters and any international media outlets that have covered the Egyptian revolution will know Alaa and cover his story closely.
Alaa had been summoned by a military prosecutor last month after an article he wrote came out in the Egyptian al-Shorouk newspaper in which he gave a powerful testimony of the death of activist Meena Daniel at Maspero on Oct. 9, for which he blamed the military.
“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 ... You have warned us for months, dear Meena, when you said: it is crucial that Maspero joins forces with Tahrir Square,” he wrote referring to Copt protester demands made in demonstrations made outside the Maspero television building in Cairo which resulted in 27 deaths.
Alaa continued: “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.”
Alaa, who was active in the “No to Military Trials” campaign, has refused to answer questions by the military prosecution.Those in Egypt now against SCAF strongly believe the council has plunged back into the ways of the former Mubarak regime; military trials of civilians such as Alaa were a sign of this. Also in the post-revolutionary Egypt, claims of sexual assault and torture by the army have emerged, mimicking the police torture alongside a power culture of impunity much like the one which existed under former President Hosni Mubarak.
But for Alaa, onlookers argue that the Egyptian blogger’s celebrity status should protect him from any mistreatment as a prisoner.
“It is unlikely that SCAF will allow him to be tortured (which is more than can be said for many others in the same predicament),” Guardian commentator Brian Whitaker wrote recently.
Alaa’s mother is on a hunger strike in protest against her son’s arrest and many of Alaa’s fellow bloggers and internet activists are considering joining the hunger strike on Friday, his birthday.
In his latest message to his fellow activists, Alaa thanked his supporters.
“The only moments that I feel happy are those when I hear news of your solidarity with me – whether it’s protests in front of the Appeal Prison (which I unfortunately did not hear because I was being held on the other side but i heard about it from other prisoners), or the protests against military trials that are all over the country from Luxor to Alexandria, or protests in Oakland and San Francisco whose protesters entered my heart that, even though I only stopped there for a short visit when I attended their sit ins and meetings.”