The Non-Existence of Human Rights in Egypt Today: The case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah

Photograph Source: Lilian Wagdy – CC BY 2.0

For the last weeks I have been frantically immersed in the works of this iconic blogger, technologist, philosopher and activist who is probably the most cause célèbre, throughout Egypt and the entire Arab World. For almost a decade now, he is held in prisons in Egypt predominately because of his intellect that is seen as an ultimate threat to a draconian dictatorship after a traumatic people’s revolution of 2011.

Abd el-Fattah’s book “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated,” brings forth personal essays, theories on technology, notes, poems and deeply heartfelt reflections on prison life, all combined to give an essence of urgency, defiance and an air of resistance that refuses to budge in-spite of all the incredible injustices. His ideas and his utter veracity make him a symbol of hope in an Egypt that has suffered incredible misery and political shenanigans after a disheartening militaristic takeover following the popular overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and his 30 years dictatorship. Alaa is the not only a symbol of hope but also the symbol of change for Egypt itself and the evolution of civil society in the larger Arab world.

Since most of his texts were smuggled out during his numerous detentions in Egyptian prisons, the collection gives us a sense of an awakening to the militarism, torturous barbarity of a post-Arab Spring Egypt. They are no delusions of grandeur. The work brings together the fraught conditions he and many are dealing with. The sequence of events and experiences are dizzying to say the least. Abd El-Fattah supported initiatives that advanced citizen’s awareness, citizen’s participation, real investigative journalism on social media against the political apathy that was and is so dire across Egypt.

First arrested for his blog, which he and his wife Manal Bahey El-Din Hassan were actively instrumental in cementing mass participation and resistance on a mass scale. The blogs called Manalaa and Omraneya are basically the first Arab blogs to gather workers, students and youth and paved the way for the eventual confrontation that actually took place against the Mubarak dictatorship in 2011. Manalaa even won the Deutsch Welle’s Best blog and The Reporters Without Borders prize, six years before Arab Spring itself.

One moment he is the voice on al Jazeera live informing the world how thousands of demonstrators are in-front of the Egyptian Parliament demanding freedom, reform and revolution. The next moment he is in Silicon Valley at RightsCon delivering the keynote address on the perils of digital monopolisation regarding modality of communication and human rights. Not long after that he is thrown into a prison cell and denied any significant contact to the outside world.

In a letter to his family, he wrote:

“If one wished for death hunger strike would not be a struggle. If one was holding on to life out of instinct then what’s the point of a strike. If you are postponing death only out of shame at your mothers tears, then you are decreasing the chances of victory. I have taken a decision to escalate at a time I see as fitting for my struggle for my freedom and the freedom prisoner of a conflict they have no part in or they are trying to exist from. For a victims of a regime that is unable to handle its crises except with oppression, unable to re-produce itself except for incarceration. The decision was taken while I am flooded with your love and longing for your company. Much love, until we meet soon. Alaa”

How can we seriously talk about environmental shifts when Egypt, once the intellectual light of the Arab world, continues to rest on the lowest level of human index of global development, on human equity, on education, on intellectual property, on scientific achievements, on patents, on gender equality, on human rights. Seriously?  As Naomi Klein so aptly put it “This COP is more than just green washing a polluting state, its green washing a police state.”

What kind of country are we really talking about here, when a society is not even able to critically look at itself? When a State actually does not make any attempt or even think about reversing its own control mechanisms and will stop incarcerating those who wish to change to core of that given society for the better? How can we even attempt to find solutions when one of the brightest and most critical minds in Egypt is languishing in prison for no apparent reason but simply because he actually questions the status-quo where it needs to be dismantled on all levels? Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who has been on a hunger-strike for over six months and is on the verge of death. He represents thousands of prisoners of conscious in Egyptian cells today. We cannot go on with hope against hope or even hope abandoned, phrases I am reminded by the words of Nadezhda Mandelstam who wrote her poignant texts regarding Stalin’s terror throughout the 1930s.

Honestly speaking, if there is going to be any shift in our dealing with the environmental catastrophes that are facing us, then naturally there must be a conscious shift in dealing with the humans who inhabit this planet. If we even attempt to count the amount of people imprisoned across the globe just for being conscious, the numbers are shockingly high. It is safe to say that human rights seem to be an expandable issue these days. The 21st century is cynically bored, where unlike the bygone days of 1970s when the Helsinki Accord, a détente between East & West was constructed. The declaration on human rights that was signed there, gave at least hope and a tinkling of consciousness. Thirty-five countries upheld, on paper at-least, the right of choice, of free political thought and the right of individual conscious. Today, almost 48 years on, our world seems so drastically changed that really one wonders how we even can start to address issues of environmental catastrophes, when so many are languishing in horrific conditions. And in most cases, these are the very people who can bring intelligent, necessary and needed solutions to the table.

In looking at the current state of affairs, there is absolutely no serious organism for self-empowerment in the current Egyptian socio-political model. The political debates, if one can call Abdel Fattah al-Sissi’s mode of governance that, in the Egyptian context lacks a theoretical frame that incorporates any critical assessment and evaluation of the post Arab spring experience. How to restructure the relations between the State, the market and other organised sectors of society for its citizenry? An open and actually critically informed study on what could be a possibility of a potentially post-capitalist potentialities are simply non-existent and even specially non-discussible. After the debacle of Mohamed Morsi, the central logic of the Egyptian State was its refusal to recognise the inherent need for a thorough process of transformation. Instead, the structural apparatus of the State continued to be dependent of foreign aid to massively bolster the Egyptian military and or fund wasteful outdated and hideous mega-projects to further bolster the State Apparatus by ensuring spending on a new capital for example and building the largest military governance administrative complex in the entire world, larger even than the Pentagon in USA or Nicolae Ceaușescu gross “Peoples Palace” in Bucharest.

Where is the moment to apply the same international standard on human rights and where is the desire to expand on something parallel to the Helsinki Accords? It often appears as though on all levels standards applied globally vary if one is dealing with the Northern hemisphere and when it comes to the Southern, like all norm of economic abuse and manipulation but the value of individuals is still up for grabs in the Global South.

The so-called notion of transition here is obviously framed in the context that the “old” State will never die, and that the new structural State can never appear regardless of any revolutionary actions. Now I ask the question, how can an old establish dictatorial system, that systematically oppresses thousands upon thousands (if not millions) can offer any fresher new environmental solutions when the very mindset is deadly against the likes of women and men who are actually informed about the way reality should shift for the betterment of not only their own citizenry but humanity at large. Yes, I know I sound naive, yes, but the case of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, is simple and yet so obviously unjust. I mean to arrest a guy because he wants his society to be freer, more open, more just and to develop further in the 21st century. Really?

The contempt of democracy, the relationship of the State to religion and justice – the so- called liberal mainstays of our liberal democracy – have been reformulated in the draconian Egyptian context – to fit the militaristic paradigm. Thus, since democracy is the rule of majority, this means our State must serve as an instrument of promoting the interest of the majority, that in the al-Sissi promotional manifesto means the use of pseudo democratic tools (facade) to encourage sub-psychological promotion of fear and paranoia against those very factions that question the legitimacy of his dictatorial rule. It also means that the liberal state doctrine of Mosque and State is hypocritical, since it the State that supposedly protects the rights of religious minorities (like Copts, Shia, & Jews) then it must be somehow abandoned and the Egyptian State must serve the religious majority. Hence any or all protests that deviate any norms of militarism are labelled either anti-Egyptian.

Achieving justice in the context of al-Sissi, is formulated specifically to the masses as though Egypt is somehow rectifying the historical injustices done to the Sunni majority by the Coptic’s, Shia, Jews and all those so-called alien invaders, intruders and conspiracy mongers who continue to enjoy privileges of being protected by the State. Many reformed activists who had opposed the former regime felt themselves tied to sectional demands as the majority of the revolutionaries concentrated on the actual struggle in Tahir Square.

In the UK multiple political organisations are demanding the release of political prisoners. Fifteen Nobel laureates are demanding the immediate release of Alaa Abd el-Fattah for the COP27 “….to devote part of your agenda to the many thousands of political prisoners held in Egypt’s prisons.” Fifty-six US law makers have asked President Biden to demand for his release.

“The last nine years of his life have been stolen from him.” Alaa Abd el-Fattah is indeed fighting with his only weapon: his body, his brain, his stance, his courage and through a hunger strike of over 200 days, he will not even take water as a form of demonstration. A dire protest on the opening of COP27 Global charade in Sharm El Sheikh for the world to finally wake-up and take a hard look at itself and at human realities in a real Egypt and not some delusional fantasy of imaginary pharaohs.

Ibrahim Quraishi is a conceptual artist and writer dividing his time between Berlin and Amsterdam. His work has been exhibited extensively across Europe, South/East Asia and the Middle East. He is a regular cultural-political contributor to the German newspaper TAZ : die tageszeitung. His first historical novel, “being everywhere, being no where” (part I of a trilogy), is forthcoming from Seven Stories Press, NY.