This fuckery must end! #freealaa

Activism, Africa, Democracy, Human Rights

They are the most adorable couple I have ever met. Each time I think about them I am reminded that true love exists. They fell in love when they were teenagers and have not fallen out of it since. Over a decade now they have been together, more than a decade in which so much has happened.

We met; 2009, February. They were geeks; total computer/techy/nerdy geeks; -both of them. They knew stuff I didn’t know then and still don’t know now. Stuff about technology, hacking, security online, open software blah blah blah. I was a novice, I had no Twitter account, all I did was post pictures on Facebook, I had no blog, did not know anything about anonymity online or all that other stuff that techies know. So they made me open a Twitter account and start a Blog page; sadly both were to remain dormant for the next 2 years because I was still gripped by technophobia. Slowly and surely they coaxed me out of it and today I have blossomed-slightly-with a whole lot more to learn -in this technology business.

Our shared passion was activism as we found common ground in our fight for freedom, justice and equality. We shared our experiences; they shared what was happening in Egypt and I shared my Zimbabwean story. We compared notes and concluded Bob and Mubarak were having the same note-sharing exercise. Systemic repression of political freedoms, police brutality, enforced disappearances, ceremonial elections; the scenes were too similar; at least Bob pretended to care about the women.

2010 we moved to South Africa. We shared so many good times, playing playing tennis on Wii in their house, eating the spicy shawarmas, celebrating the world cup-some matches in the fan parks- others in the stadiums-all thanks to Alaa’s running around to get us the tickets.

2011 when all was good and we had no premonition things would turn out this bad

2011 when all was good and we had no premonition things would turn out this bad

Beginning of 2011 we met again. We were happy, genuinely happy. I found out Dodou (their son) was on his way, ecstatic to becoming an aunt. It had been Manal’s idea that I should go learn from Egypt. She sold it and I bought into it, brilliant idea, I thought and so I prepared to do the prophesied trek: Cape to Cairo.

A few months later, we all stood in Tahrir Square. They were heroes and heroines among their peers; a family of revolutionaries that have refused; through generations to sit and watch as injustices unfold. I left several months later, they stayed home, to continue the fight.

November 2013, the police raided Alaa and Manal’s home and arrested him, accusing him of  inciting illegal demonostrations. June 2014, Egyptian courts sentenced Alaa and 25 other people to 15 years in prison in a kangaroo fashion trial that handed down judgement in default; talk about fair trial! Today Alaa sits in a prison cell, while Manal is raising their child alone. 2 weeks ago Alaa’s dad passed on and he was not there to bid him farewell.

I am angry at all the injustices that have befallen my friends, angry on  behalf of that little boy who is growing up without his father; and even more angry that Alaa is now without his father and was not given the chance to say goodbye, detained on nonsensical charges.

What kind of fuckery is this; that gives certain individuals who call themselves politicians the power to mess with other people’s lives!  What idiotic nonsense is it that they actually can and always get away with these bullying tactics across borders and oceans? Where is justice when we need it; when those who fight for the welfare of every citizen are thrown into the dungeons of despair while the greedy fools who purport to have the masses’ interests at heart loot away?

 

The unsung ones

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The unsung (s)heroes/heroines

The typical freedom fighter who is often arewarded after a struggle is one who holds the gun, stands at the forefront of the struggle and raises a voice speaking out against the injustices of an era. More often than not that freedom fighter is the man who stays in prison, is tortured and subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment yet he still stands firm against the ideals and policies of the regime he opposes. Indeed these men are brave men. Their role in challenging the status quo is an indisputably pivotal one in shaping the world into a better place.

However my heart bleeds for the forgotten freedom fighters…

The women who may not go to the warfront but are still drawn onto the battlefield. The women whose souls are battered as their bodies are turned into war zones as men rape them and mutilate them to exact revenge against their enemies. The women whose children die in their arms from hunger, starvation and disease yet they soldier on. The women who endure the long nights and dark days without their husbands, sons and brothers. The women who are left behind to wonder if they will ever see their loved ones again and who are often given the burden of taking care of the children, the elderly and the disabled under harsh conditions. Yes, these women’s role is huge yet it is often never recognised. They remain unsung heroines of the struggles for political freedom, for peace, for justice and for human rights.

At this moment my heart stands with a sheroine, Manal Bahey El Din Hassan, my friend, whose husband Alaa Abd El Fattah is being held by the Egyptian military rulers at Torah prison. Alaa stands falsely accused of inciting violence among protestors that led to the death of 26 people on 9 October. Yes for refusing to be tried in a military Court I salute him. For criticising the army and the violence it incited and executed at Maspero I also salute him.

But I salute Manal more. Right now she is heavily pregnant about to give birth to their first child. She is facing the difficulties of her final term of pregnancy alone, without her husband. Alone she stands firm and is continuously fighting the military and its policy of subjecting human rights defenders and political activists to military trials on trumped up charges.

Even her husband in a letter he wrote to the press acknowledged that while he is in prison his wife is out there;

“whom I will leave alone in the last days of her pregnancy and will leave her alone to oversee the workers who are preparing Khaled’s (their unborn son) room, I who shall be detained and she who shall be burdened while she is running around for my demands, my sustenance and my visitation permits as well as the campaign that was founded for my case.”
(Full article available at http://sultanalqassemi.blogspot.com/2011/11/egyptian-activist-alaa-abdel-fattah.html)

My heart also stands with Jenni William a Zimbabwean human rights activist and social justice champion whose struggle for social justice has landed her in prison many times. In her prison diary entitled “Reflections after my 39th arrest” Jenni writes

“My name is Jenni Williams, national coordinator of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). I am persecuted for being a human rights defender, just getting over my 39th arrest and recovering from my 3rd stint in a Zimbabwean jail as an unconvicted prisoner. Arrested on the 21st of September World Peace Day, I spent 2 days in horrific conditions at Bulawayo Central Police and then 10 days at Mlondolozi female prison in Khami complex. This brings my tally to 73 days of my life spent in jails wearing the bright green dolly rocker tunic of a remand prisoner. Despite so many arrests, the state has been unable to criminalise my right to peaceful protest so they through a particular officer with personal grudges have now resorted to criminal charges of kidnapping and theft.”

She denounces the dreary conditions in remand prison and says
“I ask us to think and try to find other ways than to send someone to a prison that cannot feed them in a country that will not reform or correct them. Instead of prisoners coming out as reformed members of society they re-enter society as hardened criminals with little hope of being reformed.”
(the whole entry is available at http://www.kubatana.org)

Many more women out there have taken the same role and time and time again their efforts have never been fully recognised for the sheer bravery they represent. These women are brave beyond measure and today I salute them and recognise them as true (s)heros.

Of bloggers, activists, expectant mothers and military rulers: Free Alaa!!!

Democracy, Human Rights, Social Justice, Social Movements, Transitional Justice

Better days, Alaa, Manal, Sem sem and I ...April 2011

Throughout the time I spent in Egypt, one recurrent question from people outside Egypt struck me the most: Had the Revolution brought about any meaningful change? My very first impressions upon arriving in Egypt were that indeed the Revolution had changed many things. I had read about the Mubarak regime which sounded pretty much like my own government. The Egypt of Mubarak was one of violent repression of dissenting opinions, arbitrary arrests, bloody dispersions of any forms of protest, strict censorship of the media, demonisation of non governmental organisations and the general suppression of the masses’ freedoms and rights. Indeed Mubarak was famous for being a ruthless dictator who would not stop at anything to consolidate his reign on power.

So when I found Egyptians able to demonstrate and camp in Tahrir Square in the aftermath of the Revolution I thought things had changed. When one of my friends asked me whether the January 25 movement in Egypt was in effect a Revolution I answered yes and based my judgement on the characteristics of the movement. I argue that it was an initiative by the masses (1), which grew out of disaffection with the governing authority (2); it overthrew a government (3) and brought about change (4). Now I look back at that response and wonder if my assessment may have been premature. Was there a real overthrow of a government and has there been any real change in Egypt? Mubarakism persists even after Mubarak has gone.

I witnessed the smear campaign against the NGOs as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces discredited them as agents of the West the same way Mubarak denounced and harassed them. That rang an alarm bell in my head because in my country, NGOs are also called stooges of the West. I witnessed the death of 26 protestors at the hands of the military as it exercised disproportionate force against unarmed civilians and again the alarm bells went off and I could smell doom coming.

I witnessed the political space closing up again and the ability to speak freely, assemble freely and associate freely that had characterised the period immediately after the revolution dissipated. Maikel Nabil an activist and blogger was subjected to military trial for writing a blog refuting the belief that was prevalent during the Revolution that the military and the people were one. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison and an additional fine of 200 Egyptian Pounds. He subsequently went on a hunger strike and has since been moved to a psychiatric hospital.

What I had not envisaged was that my very own dear friend and one of Egypt’s most prominent younger generation bloggers and human rights activists, Alaa Abd El Fattah ,would become a victim of the system just as he had done under Mubarak. I had also not anticipated that his arrest would come at a time when his dear wife Manal Bahey El Din Hassan is due to deliver their very first child/son Semsem.

In 2006 Alaa was arrested on spurious charges and spent 45 days in detention. On October 30 2011, just 6 days ago Alaa was summoned by the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces at their C4 headquarters for investigations. Alaa stands accused of inciting violence among the protestors who were expressing their anger at the burning of a church in Aswan on 9 October. The clashes between the military and the protestors that followed hose protests now famously known as the Maspero attacks (named after the state television building in front of which they took place) resulted in the death of 26 people.

It is then quite ironical for the military to charge Alaa with inciting violence when they are on record for calling people to come and defend the oh-so-vulnerable army from uncontrollable and rowdy Christians on state television. It is also ironic coming from the military which according to most video footage and eyewitnesses is clearly responsible for the death of the 26 protestors. To add insult to injury the same indictment investigating Alaa also contains the name of Mina Daniel, one of the protestors who died during the clashes.

Alaa refused to answer to the charges by the military for many reasons. First, exercising his right to remain silent and not give any evidence that could incriminate him. Second, challenging the legitimacy of the military to investigate him given that they are also an accused in the matter and therefore placing questions on the independence and impartiality of the investigations. Third, questioning the legitimacy of the military to investigate civilians in a civilian matter when the ordinary channels and ordinary courts are there to exercise this function.

For refusing to answer, Alaa was thrown into a jail cell at the notorious Bab El Khalq prison where he later explained in a letter addressed to the press was a tiny 6 x 12 feet roach infested cell which he shared with 8 other detainees. Today marks the 6th of the 15 days that he has been ordered to remain in detention. It appears this period may be extended in order to force Alaa to cooperate with the military prosecutors.

Alaa’s arrest and detention is a tragic occurrence bringing to light the reality that the Revolution in Egypt is far from accomplished. It is clear that the real reason for his arrest is that he denounced the SCAF and unequivocally placed blame on their shoulders for the Maspero massacres. It is also his vocal stance against the SCAF stating that the military rulers are doing all they can to erode the gains of the revolution. Alaa is among 12 000 other individuals, many of them human rights defenders and activists that are being subjected to military trials a culture that is not only a clear violation of their right to a fair and transparent trial but also a gross travesty to justice in itself.

Taking advantage of my proximity to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights I filed a complaint regarding Alaa’s detention with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa. The Special Rapporteur has since sent a letter of allegations to the Egyptian Head of State with regard to the arrest and detention of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bahaa Saber by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. I await the result of that enquiry and hope Alaa is released before SemSem (Alaa’s unborn son) comes into the world lest that little boy also grows up thinking it is normal for his father to be a political detainee the way Alaa did with his own father.