By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
Forty-year-old Egyptian political prisoner Alaa Abd el-Fattah has embarked on a hunger strike to the death. A leader of the 2011 Arab Spring in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that overthrew the longtime, US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak, Alaa has been repeatedly targeted for his activism by successive Egyptian governments. He’s spent eight of the last nine years in prison. The dubious crime of “broadcasting false news” earned him an additional five-year sentence last December. “He is in prison for his ideas and his words,” write the editors of “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated,” the just-published collection of Alaa’s writings. The editors chose to remain anonymous to avoid the same persecution that Alaa has suffered at the hands of the current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Alaa’s youngest sister, 28-year-old Egyptian filmmaker and activist Sanaa Seif, who herself has spent more than three years in prison, is now in the U.S. on a national tour to promote Alaa’s book and to advocate for his freedom.
The Egyptian government is doing all it can to silence Alaa Abd el-Fattah, so we rely here on interviews he gave during those fleeting moments over the last decade when he was free. Alaa first appeared on the Democracy Now! news hour in February, 2011 as the Arab Spring was sweeping across Egypt:
Amy Goodman: “Tell us, Alaa — it’s great to have you with us, a prominent Egyptian blogger, democracy activist. What is happening in front of the presidential palace, one of a number of new places that are being occupied by protesters, like Egyptian state TV, as well, and the parliament?”
Alaa Abd el-Fattah: “In front of the TV building, there’s a big crowd. We can’t shut down the TV building…it’s heavily barricaded by the army. What we’re trying to do is put pressure on the employees working inside to join us, to revolt and refuse to spread state propaganda.”
Alaa’s activism during the revolution landed him in jail, that time for two months. He spoke on Democracy Now! two days after his release:
“I was in complete darkness for five days. It was very filthy and very crowded. It was nine of us in a two-by-three-meter cell, having no access to water or toilet except 10 minutes per day. Basically, they knew they couldn’t torture me, because of the solidarity and the media attention, so they just made sure to try and use every other measure to put me in discomfort or psychological pressure.”
Journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif adbel Kouddous is also on the book tour. Sharif works with Mada Masr, one of the only independent media outlets in Egypt. Speaking on Democracy Now!, he described the al-Sisi regime’s increasing reliance on incarceration:
“There’s this ballooning of the prison population, because the regime doesn’t really deal with any of the deep social, economic and political problems that are in the country except through incarceration or other forms of oppression.”
Case in point is Egyptian TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam, jailed on alleged “human trafficking” charges. She was instructing women how to earn money by sharing videos on a platform called Likee. She was first sentenced to ten years, reduced this week to three years, with a fine of over $10,000, about three times Egypt’s average annual salary.
Alaa comes from an activist family, from his late father, Ahmed Seif El-Islam, a human rights lawyer, to his mother, mathematician Laila Soueif. After she and her daughters protested in front of the prison where Alaa was being held, her youngest, Sanaa, was beaten and arrested. She was imprisoned for a year and a half. Sanaa said on Democracy Now!, “What moves me, what keeps us going is that we, as a family, want to survive and want to unite in peace…I don’t think they are giving us any choice but to resist them.”
Alaa told Sharif Abdel Kouddous in a recorded interview in 2014,“When we talk about the revolution while living it, we are talking about a dream, a wish, something that we’re trying to fulfill, something that we’re trying to create…If what you’re trying to do is to achieve a life of dignity and safety and prosperity for yourself and for your loved ones, then you have no choice.”
Seif and Kouddous are touring the U.S. to raise awareness of Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s dire plight, now in his fourth week on hunger strike. Meanwhile, Alaa’s family managed to obtain UK citizenship for him, as his mother, though Egyptian, was born in London. An immediate intervention by both the Biden administration and the British government would provide the best mm hope to save this r Bbc courageous political prisoner.
Alaa Abd el-Fattah, you have not yet been defeated.