Taking things personally

by Nariman Youssef

Mona Seif — my young friend who’s grown only wiser and more beautiful under the weight of twelve thousand sad stories — tells the story that started it all: how and why she got involved in the No Military Trials For Civilians campaign. The following is my translation of an extract (the full version -in Arabic- can be found here).

My battle against military trials for civilians started the day I stood at a protest and witnessed army personnel beating people with particular viciousness. Then I saw a young man being dragged behind a checkpoint and knew that he would get beaten badly. If it wasn’t for the courage of my mother who went up to them and insisted she wouldn’t leave without him –until they actually let them him go―this story that I still haven’t seen the end of, would not have begun.

My story is the story of Amr El-Beheiry who –15 minutes later―was arrested again.

Others who were arrested with him that night were later released but he wasn’t. They put him through a covert trial without notifying his family or lawyer, sentenced him to 5 years and sent him to a faraway prison where he can’t be easily reached.

My battle started the moment I held on to his arm and said, “No, let’s not let leave him. He should come home with us”, and then allowed myself to be persuaded that he was getting a ride home with other people.

When I found out he was arrested again and sentenced, I could only think that I should not have let him go. I keep replaying this scene in my head: my hand leaving his arm and him getting into the car. I keep remembering and telling myself that I should not have left him, that I should’ve listened to the voice telling me to hold on to him.

But this is my story, and that was my fate, and thus the battle began.

I ask you to take things personally.

Don’t look at this as just another case, as just a number or a name. Try to see the story behind it.

Before you fall asleep each night, give a few minutes to one of the many prisoners. Try to imagine how he’s sleeping now, in what conditions, if he’s sleeping at all. Maybe there’s just been an inspection raid on his ward and the food and letters that loving families had sent is scattered all over the place. What could be going through his mind? How would you feel if you had left your home to go to a protest like on many other days, and in one moment everything changes. You’re taken, beaten, tortured, and told you’re going to stay in this faraway prison for 5 years!

I ask you to take things personally.

Mona Seif – September 2011

The events referred to above occurred on 25 Feb 2011. Since then, a total of at least 12,000 people have been sentenced in military trials or unlawfully detained by the military prosector. At the moment Mona’s own brother, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, is detained “under investigation” after refusing to acknowledge the military prosecutor’s authority to question him. This is Alaa’s second experience since 2006 of what he refers to as Mubarak’s jails.

We now refuse to co-operate with military trials and prosecutions. We will not hand ourselves in, we will not submit ourselves to questioning. If they want us, they can take us from our homes and workplaces.