[The following was written by Alaa Abd El Fattah, after the peice was smuggled out of the Tora Prison on 9 December 2011. It was published in Arabic on Al Shorouk and in English on the website of No Military Trials for Civilians Movement, both on 19 December 2011.]
Half an Hour With Khaled: A piece smuggled out of jail by Alaa Abd El Fattah
Fate chose that my imprisonment should be connected to the civil judiciary: I was imprisoned in 2006 with fifty comrades from Kefaya movement and untold hundreds of the Muslim Brotherhood because of our solidarity with the intifada of the judiciary against Mubarak and his regime. We protested for the independence of the judiciary and their complete supervision of the elections, and so were imprisoned by the State Security Prosecutor for a month and a half.
And now, in the era of the revolution I was imprisoned by the military prosecutor as a punishment for insisting on appearing before a civil judge. And perhaps also as a punishment for my role in the events of Maspero, which was also connected to the civil judiciary: our stand in the Coptic Hospital to ensure a serious investigation by the pubic prosecutor and our insistence on genuine autopsies by the coroner. This stand was the reason my name was listed in the files of the police and military intelligence.
With the killing of new martyrs in Tahrir we gained a victory in the Maspero case. But it is a victory with a Ganzouri taste. It’s true that the case was referred to the civil courts but instead of standing in front of an independent investigating judge I find myself once more in front of the higher state security prosecutor.
In the era of the deposed we used to refuse being tried by state security prosecution because it is an exceptional judiciary. But in the era of Ganzouri we agreed to it on the basis that the exceptional civil is better than the exceptional military. And because it was a Ganzouri victory I did not rejoice. In fact I came back from the prosecutor in a miserable state. I spent my most difficult week in jail because what had gone before had been a struggle and a stand against military trials, and struggle inspires patience and makes resilience easy. But what was the meaning of my continued imprisonment after the case was referred? What’s the aim of my resilience?
The lawyers assured me that the appeal against the imprisonment on remand would be in front of a civil judge: at last I would appear in front of the judge for whose dignity, stature and independence we were tortured and jailed for.
I was thinking of nothing then except getting out to be there at the birth of my first child, Khaled. Our doctor had advised an early Cesarean for the sake of Manal’s health, and with every renewal of my imprisonment we took a risk in postponing the birth in the hope that we would win and I would be there.
Khaled was in solidarity with us; he would not come out despite the passage of his nine months and waited for our last hope: the appeal in front of a civil judge. Our hopes were high, for there was no reason to jail me. I am innocent until proved guilty, and my return from abroad specially to appear in front of the prosecutor was evidence that I would not flee. And in any case the charges against me were clearly fabricated, the investigation not serious, the testimonies of false witnesses conflicting. We put forward our evidence and asked to hear witnesses who would prove that I was not in Maspero at the time of the massacre. It seemed that the truth was clear.
Khaled did his bit and waited for the judge. The lawyers presented their defence. Manal stood in front of the judge and asked that I should be released to be with her at the birth. But my civil judge looked at her strangely. I think I knew when I saw that look that he would not do right by me.
My morale collapsed completely. I drowned in fear and worry for Khaled and his mother. For the first time I was sorry for myself. My imprisonment had become a kind of absurdity, and my mind and my heart could not bear absurdity. I understand why a state security prosecutor would jail me, but why would the civil judge jail me? What’s the enmity between me and him? And what’s to become of me now? Will I turn into one of the thousands of miserable creatures in Torah Investigation Jail? We wait for months, sometimes years for a judgement that never comes, from the hands of judges whom the law tells that we are innocent until proven guilty, and whom the constitution tells that our freedom and our rights cannot be constrained except by court order. But they do not hear. Our imprisonment continues, our cases never end, and we are forgotten by the world that stretches out beyond the prison walls. Everyone in the jail is faded and miserable, even the cats are pale; their movements slow, their eyes spent and broken.
I went to sleep convinced that this was my fate: I had six months at least before my case was brought before a court
And then came Khaled! Next day, in the afternoon, I got a message telling me he and Manal were well, and a photo. Love at first sight. Love at first photograph. The prison disappeared with its walls and its cats; everything disappeared except my love for Khaled and my joy at his arrival. I slept content.
On his third day Khaled visited me. It was a surprise. I’d expected that the doctor wouldn’t allow a visit until at least a week. Khaled visited me for half an hour. I held him for ten minutes.
My God! How come he’s so beautiful? Love at first touch! In half an hour he gave me joy to fill the jail for a whole week. In half an hour I gave him love I wished would surround him for a whole week. In half an hour I changed and the universe changed around me. Now I understand why my imprisonment continues: they wanted to deprive me of joy. Now I understand why I will resist: my imprisonment will not stop my love. My happiness is resistance. Holding Khalid for a few moments is carrying on the fight.
I was not alone for a second in my resistance; I’m always accompanied by supporters. And so I wasn’t alone in the joy of Khaled, I was flooded with the joy of comrades. I’d become used to receiving telegrammed tweets in my jail: congratulations for the Eid and for my birthday, I also got congratulations for the return of the revolution to the Midan. But Khaled was something else! A huge amount of telegrams, most of them from people I don’t know and might never have the honour of meeting; they wrote to express their joy at Khaled’s arrival and their love for him. They wrote introducing themselves, the names of the members of their families, their addresses, their jobs, their cities. They wrote that Khaled has uncles and aunts in hundreds of homes everywhere in Egypt.
Sadly I was not allowed to keep these messages; I read them once hurriedly then they vanish. I will not be able to speak the names of every aunt and every uncle to Khaled, but their love has reached him. Half an hour that inspires me with happiness that I survive on for a week. Just the news of his arrival inspires people who don’t know us with a joy that makes them send telegrams to an imprisoned father.
Half an hour in which I did nothing except look at him. What about half an hour in which I changed him? Or half an hour in which I fed him? Or half an hour in which I played with him? What about half an hour for him to tell me about his school? Half an hour for him and I to talk about his dreams? Half an hour to argue about whether he should go down to a protest? Half an hour for him to give me an impassioned speech about the revolution and how it will free us all? About bread and freedom and dignity and justice? Half an hour for me to feel proud that my son is a brave man carrying the responsibility of a country before he’s of age to carry the responsibility of himself?
* * * *
How much happiness in half an hour like that? In that last half hour the father of the shaheed spent with this son?
Prison deprives me of Khaled except for half an hour. I’m patient because we shall spend the rest of our half hours together. Why is the father of the shaheed patient?
The shaheed is immortal, in our hearts immortal, in our minds immortal, in history immortal and in paradise immortal. But does his immortality bring happiness to his father? His heart will burst with love for the remaining half hours of his life. Will he empty what’s in his heart in the arms of history? I wait for my release and I’m resilient. What does the father of the shaheed wait for? That he follows the immortal to heaven?
We thought the judge would do right by us; in 2006 we chanted, “judges, free us of the tyrants”, then my natural judge jailed me to deprive me of Khaled. The father of the shaheed thought that the solider would do right by him, and in February we chanted the Army, the People, One Hand, then the soldier killed us to deprive us of the immortal.
Looking for the reasons for my imprisonment is absurd. My imprisonment will not restore their state. Similarly, the death of most of the shuhada is absurd; perhaps at the beginning they killed the shuhada to stop the revolution, but why did they carry on killing after it was proved time and time again after it was proved that the revolution would continue? The killing even increases as they draw closer to defeat. I remember the snipers appearing on the day of the camel, they came late, after it had become clear that the square would hold. It was killing for the sake of killing: killing simply to deprive us of the immortal. Absurd; for killing us will not restore their state.
We need to be vigilant: they do not kill us to restore their state; they kill us because killing and jailing are normal behaviours in their state. Yes, normal behaviours. It’s just that we kid ourselves. It wasn’t only the police of their state who let us down; did the deans of their colleges not share in running over our children? Were we not let down by the bakeries and the gas depots of their state? By the ferries and ports of their state? Were we not let down by its wheel of production that lavishes millions on the director and the consultant while at a standstill but cannot spare a crumb for the worker when turning? Were we not let down by its economy that closes down the textiles factories while the cotton is piled high in the farmers home but keeps the fertilizer plant pouring poison into our water? Were we not let down by its football clubs that let security brutalize the fans if they cheer too noisily but intervenes to shield players when they raise arms? We are let down by all its institutions and every leader in it and tomorrow we will be let down by its parliament and its president.
I did not imagine that my heart carried the love that burst forth with the birth of Khaled; how can I understand the sorrow that is in the heart of the father of the shaheed? My God, how can it be so cruel? That you should bury your son rather than he bury you? Is there a worse injustice? Is there a worse imbalance? We kid ourselves and pretend it’s an exceptional event and that it is possible to reform that state, but all the evidence shows that it is a normal event and there is no hope except in the fall of that state.
Yes, their state should fall. We fear facing this truth, we fear for the country if the state should fall; if the Midan should cause the state to fall what remains for us? Egypt is not the Midan.
It’s true that Egypt is not the Midan. But we have not understood the Midan. What do we do in the Midan? Well, we meet, we eat, we sleep, we discuss, we pray, we chant, we sing, we spend effort and imagination to sustain ourselves, we rejoice and cheer at a wedding, we sorrow and weep in a funeral, we express our ideas, our dreams, our identities, we quarrel sometimes, sometimes we’re at a loss and confused, searching for the future, we spend each day as it comes, not knowing what the future hides for us.
Is this not what we do outside the Midan? Nothing is exceptional in the Midan except our togetherness. Outside the Midan we think that we rejoice at a wedding because we know the bride and groom, in the Midan we rejoiced and celebrated at the wedding of strangers. Outside the Midan we think that we grieve at a funeral because we know the deceased, in the Midan we grieved for strangers and prayed for them.
Nothing is new in the Midan except that we surround ourselves with the love of strangers. But the love of strangers is not a monopoly of the Midan: hundreds sent me messages of love for Khaled from outside the Midan, some describe themselves as belonging to the sofa party. Millions grieved for the shaheed in every home in Egypt.
We rejoice at a wedding because it is a wedding. We grieve at a funeral because it is death. We love the newborn because he’s human and because he’s Egyptian. Our hearts break for the shaheed because he’s human and because he’s Egyptian. We go to the Midan to discover that we love life outside it, and to discover that our love for life is resistance. We race towards the bullets because we love life, and we go into prison because we love freedom.
The country is what we love and what we live; what makes us happy and what makes us sad. If the state falls it is not just the Midan that will remain; what will remain is the love of strangers and everything that impelled us towards the Midan and everything that we learned in the Midan.
Love is immortal and sorrow is immortal and the Midan is immortal and the shaheed is immortal and the country is immortal. As for their state it is for an hour. Just for an hour.
The morning of Friday, 9 December 2011
Tora Investigation Jail