opinion | Abandoned Children of Egypt’s Arab Spring

In early 2011, after massive protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square ended Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of autocracy, many activists who took to the streets found themselves in high demand. He was a guest on “The Daily Show”. The then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the square, commented It was “extraordinary” “where the revolution took place,” and found some workers.

The Egyptian activist, intellectual and blogger Ala Abd al-Fatih has been described as “the synonym of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution“Did know the attention of the world would soon shift.

“They will soon forget about us,” he told me more than a decade ago.

He was right, of course. Ala was always clean and realistic, but somehow never turned cynical. He protested in Tahrir Square in 2011, when he was 29 years old, but also later. Charismatic, fluent in English, and witty, he conversed well abroad, but always returned to Egypt, even when facing the prospect of imprisonment for his outspokenness. His writings, some smuggled out of prison, were published this year as a book, “You’ve Not Been Defeated.”

These days, I wonder even if he turns into a freak, considering how much the world has turned its back on the young men and women of the Arab Spring generation who dared to hope. Many are tormented as political prisoners, often in appalling circumstances.

However, I cannot ask what he thinks, as he has been in prison for more than the last eight years.

Last week, I didn’t even know if he was alive.

After years of imprisonment in appalling conditions – he reports being denied long periods of exercise, sunlight, books and newspapers, and being denied any access to the written word – Ala, a British citizen since 2021, died of hunger in April. Started a strike, which was opposed. British consular visit,

In late July, his family lost all access, with no evidence of him being alive since a visit in mid-July. After the international uproar, his mother finally came to meet him on Sunday. Still, it was through a glass partition – according to his family he has not been allowed to hug him even once for the past three years. What exactly was broken, and why did it take so long to confirm that he was alive? It’s an endless nightmare.

Ala’s family is well aware of the brutalities of life under authoritarianism. Ala’s sister Mona was born while her father, who later became a human rights lawyer, was in prison. Ala’s son Khalid was born while Ala was in jail. In 2014, both Ala and her other sister, Sana, then only 20, were in jail, and were not allowed to visit their dying father. In 2020, while waiting outside Ala’s prison, Sana was attacked, and then charged with spreading “false news” and imprisoned for another year and a half. half – A case denounced by Amnesty International as a concoction.

Ala has the dubious honor of being a political prisoner under Hosni Mubarak, Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi, and then Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general who is now the president of Egypt. During its brief release in 2014, Ala continued to say how happy she was to finally change her son’s diaper; A few months later he was again imprisoned. He was released in 2019, rejoicing to spend time with his son again.

But after a few months he was taken into custody without any charges. In 2021, when he finally got a trial, he received another five-year sentence for spreading “false news”. Ala said It was also not told what he was being accused of. before being brought to court.

Ala’s family insists that she is an unjustly imprisoned man – her mother often notes how many others are not even talked about.

But Ala’s treatment is a sign of how little care is left in the world. He is internationally known, a British citizen, has been described by Amnesty International as prisoner of conscience who is unjustly imprisoned, There have been op-ed essays and calls from human rights organizations – to no avail.

One does not have to be gullible about international politics to understand why it is so devastating. We know that many countries with a commitment to democracy and human rights routinely cut deals with dire regimes because of their strategic goals or access to resources or cooperation.

But here, however, countries that care about human rights are leveraged, as Egypt relies on foreign aid, trade and tourism to sustain its economy, and there is no reason why it cannot release some political prisoners. And the prison cannot improve the situation, even if it is just for show, because it will not pose any threat to the regime.

That Egypt hasn’t been pushed hard to do even this trivially is a moral stain that cannot be justified by real politics.

In November, Egypt a . will host global climate change conference, about 120 world leaders, including President Biden visited Scotland for the last time. They can, at least, ask for progress before showing up for this one, and act as if all is well.

Britain can declare that no high-level representative will participate unless their wrongfully imprisoned civilian Ala Abd al-Fatih is allowed to leave. Unfortunately, Britain is mired in a political crisis, making US leadership even more critical.

Commendably, one Senator and 13 members of the House have signed a letter solicitation of action. More of his allies may join him, especially since the United States provides more than $1 billion in aid to Egypt and billions in military sales require administration approval.

President Biden could have picked up the phone and told the Egyptian government that abuse of political prisoners would be considered when approving future aid or military sales.

So what, a cynical might think, even if Egypt releases some people and improves conditions for others, many are left behind, and the political situation will not change. It is true, and those thousands of political prisoners – the forgotten, abandoned children of the Arab Spring – will be at least confused about this reality.

But it is also true that any degree of relaxation, even a small one, of such a regime helps. I know many political prisoners, some released under external pressure, some left behind. I have yet to meet a gull about the process, but I don’t even know anyone who didn’t welcome progress—each person is a life.

In 2011, three days after her birth, Ala’s son, Khalid, was allowed to visit her in prison for half an hour – 10 minutes, of which Ala grabbed her.

“In half an hour I changed and the universe turned around me,” Ala wrote of the trip. “Now I understand why I’m in prison: they want to deprive me of pleasure. Now I understand why I’ll protest: Prison won’t stop my love.

Ala then wrote about her dreams for the future with her son: “What will it take for him to tell me about school for about half an hour?” he wondered. “Him and I to talk about her dreams for half an hour?”

Ala Abd al-Fatih has been robbed from all those half-hours.

Someone with power must tell the Egyptian government that even though lofty goals can be abandoned, the world has not completely forgotten how it once admired the courageous youth who dreamed of a better future. dared. At least we owe half an hour more, to walk and breathe freely, to hold our kids, and to keep dreaming of a better world.

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