[This article is part of a roundtable that is a product of a public forum that Academics for Justice in Palestine (AJP) at UCSB held on 8 December 2023. To see all other entries in this roundtable, click here.]
I am Laila Shereen Sakr (also known by my moniker, VJ Um Amel). I teach Media Theory and Practice at UC Santa Barbara. I am Academics for Justice in Palestine.
I recall the streets of the Egyptian Revolution thirteen years ago. People mobilized themselves and their tools to reimagine global networks of power. A global vision was at the core of their practices. For Alaa Abd el-Fattah, an incarcerated Egyptian political activist, writer, and coder, the Egyptian revolution far exceeded nationalist aspirations in its broader call for freedom and justice.
It was from his visit to Gaza, Palestine, in 2012, where he said he understood struggle and resistance as collective, transnational, and global. In the last essay of his book, You Have Not Yet Been Defeated, Alaa dreams of escaping his cell in Tora Maximum Security Prison 2 to the besieged Gaza Strip. He writes, “If I were free in Gaza instead of locked up in Cairo, I would read books . . . walk on the beach, work, and make a living.” His sentiment is undeniably dignifying, even beautiful.
That was over ten years ago. Perhaps Palestine taught Alaa what it has taught many, that the symbolic meaning of military barriers and bombardment does not extend beyond the material fact of their cement – despite the undeniably crushing weight of that cement. “I know I’ve not lived under bombardment,” he writes, “that visiting a siege is different to living under it.”
What Alaa lionizes about Palestinians in Gaza is what they share: the rejection of unwarranted realities and fabricated borders – the refusal to die in the wait. If I were to give this a title, I would call it mustamira, which is Arabic for ongoing or persistent.