Home News Alaa Abdel Fattah is still in prison, but his thoughts are free – Catherine Cornet

Alaa Abdel Fattah is still in prison, but his thoughts are free – Catherine Cornet

by admin

October 29, 2021 11:22 am

There is a very rich tradition of Egyptian “prison literature”. It is even one of the most practiced literary genres: Islamist or secular, socialist or liberal thinkers who have suffered the repressive policies of the various Egyptian regimes, in particular from Gamal Abdel Nasser onwards, have written behind bars, witnesses of a civil society and of an intellectual world that cannot be easily defeated.

One of the archetypes of this civil society of extraordinary courage is the Abdel Fattah-Soueif family. His father, Ahmed Seif al Islam, was imprisoned twice under President Anwar al Sadat and two more under Hosni Mubarak. During his captivity he was tortured with electric shocks and his arms and legs were broken. Despite this, he graduated from the prison where he was serving a five-year sentence. Released from prison, he founded the Hicham Mubarak center and became one of the most respected human rights lawyers in Egypt. Her mother, Laila Soueif, is a physics teacher and early adopter. And then there is Alaa Abdel Fattah, their son, blogger, activist and thinker, one of the protagonists of the Egyptian revolution of 2011, who has spent seven of the last eight years in prison along with 60,000 other Egyptian political prisoners.

You haven’t been defeated yet it is the first Italian translation of the writings of Alaa Abdel Fattah. It is published by hopefulmonster editore, in the series La stanza del mondo edited by Paola Caridi, and translated by Monica Ruocco.

International solidarity
We owe the publication of this book to the courage and endurance of three women: Laila Soueif and her daughters Mona and Sanaa, the sisters of Alaa. All three are human rights activists who have spent tens of hours outside the dreaded Tora prison in Cairo waiting for a letter, from a writing by Abdel Fattah. They were attacked in front of the prison while the police let it be done. Sanaa, 26, was arrested while she went to report the beating to the police. On March 17, she was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on completely false charges according to Amnesty international. Since 2014 she had already been sentenced to prison in relation to two other cases, as recalled by this video on the mural that was dedicated to her by the Egyptian artist Ammar Abo Bakr in Rome.

The book also exists thanks to the beautiful international solidarity of a collective that still surrounds the revolutionaries of Tahrir Square. Alaa Abdel Fatah’s texts were published in English and Italian at the same time. The English version has an introduction by the Canadian journalist Noemi Klein, the Italian one is presented by Paola Caridi, an expert journalist on the Middle East, while some very useful notes trace the political context of the writings.

We owe the publication of this book to the courage and endurance of three women: Laila Soueif and her daughters Mona and Sanaa, the sisters of Alaa

The paper format might seem paradoxical to an author who is a programmer by training and is rightly regarded as the father of Egyptian bloggers, having invented, together with his wife Manal Hassan, the blog aggregators Manalaa and Omraneya, which around 2005 opened up a new door for freedom of expression in Egypt, six years before the Tahrir Square revolution.

Alaa Abdel Fattah is a contemporary intellectual and activist who expresses himself with great clarity on various media and the book embraces this multiple communication. There are articles from the revolutionary period, when his writings were published by several newspapers at the same time: the article published by Al Shorouq on 10 July 2011, which opens the collection, is dedicated to the study of the South African constitution. The enthusiasm and democratic intensity of Abdel Fattah’s thought can be seen from the very first pages:

Every single major issue, such as the question of having a presidential or parliamentary system, requires a broad discussion that can take weeks. The debates should be public and there should be consultations to allow citizens, civil society representatives, our political and protest movements to participate in the discussions.

To pay tribute to his activism during the period between 2012 and 2013, the collective of curators selected the contributions published on Twitter and Facebook instead. In that period Abdel Fattah was present on all fronts and, according to their calculation, if he tweeted over 290,000 times since 2007, “it means that if a book contains 300 pages and each page contains ten tweets, it is equivalent to about one hundred books composed only of tweets “.

There are also interventions in international contexts such as his opening speech at RightsCon, a conference on human rights in the digital age held in Silicon Valley, in which he publicly accuses private telephone networks like Vodafone of having bowed to authoritarianism during the revolution. But his political thinking goes further and identifies the structural reasons for the situation, which have global implications:

The market is highly centralized, highly monopolized, and this is to ensure privileges for these companies. In return, large corporations extend their privileges to the government, allowing it to exercise greater control.

The volume also includes excerpts from television interviews, dialogues with friends published by the independent Egyptian newspaper Mada Masr, literary collaborations with poets through “shouts from cell to cell”, letters written on pieces of paper in prison and collected by the mother and sisters. . Or his famous statements to the magistrate: not even having a pen and paper in his cell anymore, the intellectual takes advantage of this occasion in which he is given the floor to mix punctual complaints from the judicial system and political reflections:

When all these prisoners are denied access to books, newspapers and magazines, (…) when they are deprived of the radio and even the use of the prison library, what do you expect of them when they come out? are not exposed to different ideas, so what’s the point of holding them back? Who benefits? (…) If you deny us the music, the void will be filled by Salil Al-Sawaram, and if you forbid the news, the void will be filled by Dabiq (respectively a propaganda song and the magazine of the Islamic State organization).

Among the most moving pages of the collection we find the story of a trip made to Gaza, during his only year of freedom in the last eight, accompanied by his son Khaled, born while he was in prison. You can read the words of a witness who is attentive, humble, supportive and also very impressed by the resilience of Gaza.

In the preface, Paola Caridi explains how Antonio Gramsci counts for Alaa Abdel Fattah, who often quotes him, as in this passage:

Sure, I strive to apply Gramsci’s theory of ‘pessimism of reason and optimism of will’, but there is such denial of will here that I have to practice optimism of reason before messing up my comrades.

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As in the other cases that Italy is used to following more closely – the preventive detention and postponed trial of Patrick Zaki and the Egyptian authorities’ lack of cooperation with the Italian judiciary for the murder of Giulio Regeni – Alaa Abdel Fatah lives in been in prison for two years without even knowing what the charge is.

According to historian Khaled Fahmy quoted in the English version:

Alaa is the bravest, most critical and most committed citizen of all of us. At a time when Egypt was turned into a great prison, Alaa managed to hold on to his humanity and be the freest Egyptian.

In the second week of September, during yet another hearing for the renewal of his detention, Abdel Fattah explained that he can no longer bear the situation and that he is “seriously thinking about suicide”. “Alaa’s life is in danger,” mother Laila and sister Mona warned in a public statement. Reading Alaa Abdel Fatah’s book also means not leaving him alone and saying that he has not yet been defeated.

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