Text and Photos by Heba Khamis
Translated by Eman Hashim
Whether as a revolutionary activist chanting at protests or as an attorney advocating on behalf of the underprivileged in the courtroom, Mahienour Al-Masry is a strong voice defending social justice and fighting police brutality. She chanted against the murders of Khaled Said and Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh and against the injustices suffered by Egyptian workers, whether under the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood, or the current military regime.
Her principled stances have exposed her to the wrath of the police state. Mahienour is currently serving a fifteen-month prison sentence for allegedly assaulting police officers in March 2013, a charge that she has denied. Many believe these charges are politically motivated and aimed at silencing her activism against police repression. Nevertheless, she remains as resolute as ever in her fight for human dignity and social justice. That unwavering commitment has earned her the admiration and respect of human rights advocates worldwide. In 2014 she won the “Ludovic-Trarieux” human rights award while she was serving a prison sentence for breaking a draconian anti-protest law.
A native of Alexandria, Mahienour’s social consciousness developed at a young age. In one crucial experience at the age of five, she overheard two women talking about her as she was with her father in the car. When one of them expressed sympathy for Mahienour’s lost eye, the other responded: “She has a car. I wish they would take my eye and give me a car!”
Mahienour evolved politically as a young prep school student who began reading about socialism and Marxism, years before she joined the Revolutionary Socialists. By 2005, Mahienour was a fully conscious political activist who often took to the streets to advocate on behalf of the underprivileged.
She was among the first group of activists to focus on and bring attention to the murder of Khalid Said in the Sidi-Gaber police station in the summer of 2010. His death is widely considered one of the triggers for the 25 January 2011 uprising.
Her name means “moonlight” and this is exactly how many of those she has supported view her – light that brings hope in dark moments. Whereas those in power see her as a light that is focused right at what they are seeking to conceal and hide from the public.
Her continuous fight for justice is likely the reason why she has gained the respect of so many and why her arrest has triggered much anger and condemnation in social media. That was also evident at her first case trial where the courtroom was full of people referring to her as “the daughter of the revolution” or “the saint.”
Whenever she heard about an activist arrested, a worker laid-off arbitrarily, or families forcefully evicted from their homes she rushed to their sides. In 2008, Mahienour stood in support of the hundreds of Alexandrian families resisting an order to demolish their homes under the pretext that it was state land. The land was sold to a businessman intent on making it a resort. Mahienour stood by them in their three-year struggle. Many of those families still remember how she slept on the asphalt with them in front of the Ministry of Agriculture during a 100-day sit-in to demand the return of their homes. She was also involved in supporting residents of Ezbet Al-Arab in their struggle to resist forced eviction from their land. One week before her last arrest, she was actively working with residents of Ezbet Al-Hilaliya who are facing the threat of house demolition.
Mahienour also lobbied passionately on behalf of the workers’ right to form independent syndicates and unions. She also advocated for Syrian refugees arrested in Egypt during their attempt to flee from Syria to Italy.
Mahienour has always stood firmly and unequivocally in support of her principles. In spite of her past opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored government, Mahienour has been an avid supporter of the victims of the police storming of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in and the families of detained Brotherhood supporters.