Maher: One year in prison, one year of injustice

Maher: One year in prison, one year of injustice
Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher organised protests against Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Three years later the army is back in control, and Maher is in prison. Here, he writes from solitary confinement.
8 min read
04 Dec, 2014
Ahmed Maher was jailed after a demonstration in Cairo [Anadolu]

An entire year has passed, yet there are events and details that I have tried - but unfortunately failed - to forget. Every attempt brings them back in stark relief. I have remembered these memories every day for a whole year. Prison breaks you.

An entire year has passed in solitary confinement. Things got worse when the other inmates were transferred to different prisons, increasing my sense of loneliness. I no longer had anyone to talk to, so allow me to recall the beginning of my imprisonment a year ago. Allow me to let it all out.

Marching for freedom

It all started when protests were announced against military trials being used by the new government in Egypt. Demonstrations began on 24 November 2013 and escalated over the next two days as the "civilian powers" in government said they would issue an anti-protest law on 26 November, without debate.

On that date, I announced my opposition to the law and called for protests outside the Shura Council, the former upper house of the Egyptian parliament. The government did not respond. We raised hell when Mohamed Morsi tried to pass a far more limited protest law, so how could we stand by while the powers in Cairo issued an even more strict one? If we did nothing now, we would be hypocrites.

Twenty-four young men were brought into custody, and the police issued an arrest warrant against myself and Alaa Abd el-Fattah, another activist, on charges of inciting the Shura Council protest and challenging the anti-protest law.

Protests erupted against the acquittal of Mubarak 

On 27 November, an investigation began, and the following day Alaa Abd el-Fattah was arrested at his home.

Handcuffed and blindfolded, police beat him and his wife. That same day I decided to voluntarily turn myself into the police and on Saturday morning on 30 November, I did.

Mass manipulation

What followed was a series of contrived events at the Abdeen Court, when the police announced that the interrogation wouldn't be taking place at the public prosecutor's office, as standard, but here in the court.

I was in custody for four days pending investigations into the Shura Council protest. Charges were dropped against me for this, but a new case was opened against me for incitement to protest in front of the Abdeen Court. This charge relates to my interrogation in the court over the Shura Council protest. Then another investigation was launched against me on 2 December 2013, my birthday. That was a birthday I will not forget.

I won't forget the young man who said, under interrogation, that he wouldn't have taken part in the Shura Council protest had he known that I was the main instigator. "I hate Ahmed Maher, the traitor who squeezed lemons," he said.

That is an Egyptian expression said when you are forced to do something unpleasant. Non-Islamists who voted for Morsi were referred to as lemon squeezers.

Later he said he would beat me every day if I ended up in the same prison as him. "You are a lemon squeezer who led the people to choose Morsi, betrayed the revolution and played with politics," he said.

His words do not bother me, but I am genuinely sad that until now, some revolutionary youths still think of me that way. This is despite everything that was revealed after 3 July [the date of Morsi's overthrow in 2013] - the persecution and the betrayal of the 25 January 2011 revolution.

I hope the young man knows that I am not angry at him. I hope he knows that I wish to see him in prison, not to fight, but to talk, discuss and listen to each other's views.

Sadly, he is now with the other young men in Torah prison adjacent to Liman Torah where I am currently detained - alone, talking to the walls. There is no one left to talk to, except during the few hours of outdoor exercise I am allowed.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah is alone in another prison. Ahmed Doma is still in hospital, suffering from the effects of a hunger strike. May God heal him. Come, my comrade, let us talk and understand each other. They have separated us even in prison.

Bitter tastes

I remember a girl who shouted at me on the night that the other prisoners from the Shura Council protest were being transferred to New Cairo for further interrogation [before Maher had handed himself in].

"Why are you here?" she cried. "You do not belong with us. You belong with the Muslim Brotherhood, you lemon squeezer.

"You have come to crash the protest of the No Military Trials campaign. Get out of here," she yelled.

What she said shocked me, because I would always see her at youth movement coordination meetings after January 2011 - right up until a few days before this.

Five teenagers than began to heap abuse on me. "Ahmed Maher has come to get filmed by the media," they said, despite the news reports of a warrant for my arrest.

A fight almost broke out between the group and some people who had intervened to protect me. The situation calmed down once Alaa Abd el-Fattah and Laila Soueif intervened and drove away the young men.

Some people told me that the group were probably intruders or security thugs pretending to be revolutionaries. Others said they were just angry teenagers being used, guided and incited by security thugs pretending to be revolutionaries. God knows what the truth is, but it is all the same in the end.

Caged, alone

Regrettably, I have changed a lot in solitary confinement. I have lost my sense of tolerance and can not forget about all the unfair and oppressive wrongs inflicted against me. 

     Prison leaves a big gap in your soul. You lose your inner peace, sense of calm and nerves. Your ability to remain tolerant, to sleep or to think.

Not all painful experiences are a burden on people's shoulders. Sometimes they have a positive effect on people.

After the investigation on 30 November on charges of inciting protests, I was shocked to find out about another case being brought against me, accusing me of inciting violence outside of Abdeen Court. I did not even know about the investigation.

A few days later, a hearing was scheduled. A week after that my three-year sentence began. Then the date of the appeal was scheduled.

Appeal denied

Video evidence contradicted the accounts of the witnesses who said that I attacked Brigadier-General Emad Tahoun, and proved that I was actually the one who was assaulted by unknown assailants while entering the court.

All of the "witnesses" had criminal records, and the videos of the incident presented by lawyers clearly showed central security soldiers smashing chairs in a cafe, which is next to the court, and whose owner complained about the damage.

Despite all this evidence and the witness accounts, the great, fair and free judges supported the original verdict without any change or reduction to the three years in prison, three years' probation and a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,000).

I am waiting now for the court sentence to be revoked in January, but my hopes are not high. The regime wants revenge. It is the season for revenge, and the young people and those involved in the January 2011 revolution will pay the price. The judicial court is one of the military regime's tools for revenge.

Hunger strike

It is most unfortunate that I have to stop my hunger strike. The dreaded cancer has spread in my mother's body and she can't tolerate seeing me this way, looking like a mummy after my weight dropped to 65kg and my health deteriorated.

My children are now scared to look at me, and so am I when I look at my face in the mirror. I am scared of this mummy-like face with its green, bulgy, scary eyes, which become tearful when I think of how I cannot take care of my mother, who has endured so much for me over the past 33 years.

Here she is, facing life's torments without me, and she has to rely on the slow Egyptian state health care system. I obviously can't afford the cost of decent treatment for her, despite all the legends that say I have funding and financial resources. The dirty intelligence agency officers know about me and know very well that I have never betrayed my country, and never received a piastre for my cause -nor have I any possessions.

I am sorry Alaa, I took a break [from the hunger strike] because my daughter's mental state is getting worse day by day and she is now afraid of people, the school, fellow pupils and teachers. She asks me every time she visits me: "Dad, what are you doing in prison? Why don’t you come with us? Why are you wearing blue like the bad people that we see on TV. Why do we see you in a cage on TV? Why? Why?"

I would answer her, "Uncle Sisi doesn't want me to go with you. I will be with you again, but you should listen to mother and not be afraid of people, the school, the security officers, Sisi, or anyone else."

I am sorry, Miral, my daughter. I am sorry, Nidal, my son. I am sorry, mother for my helplessness. I am sorry, my wife, for the difficulties, problems, and suffering I have brought to you. I am sorry, all people. I am sorry, Alaa, that I have temporarily stopped my hunger strike.

God willing, I will be with you again soon, Miral, Nida, and mother… and my dear wife (I'm sorry), and we will go on with our lives again. Happy New Year, God willing.

It was my birthday on 2 December. I was alone in the cell, just like last year. And you are alone too, but I'm sure you still remember me. I am now 34. I am old now and I have changed, and I hope that on my next birthday I will be with you, for God is great.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.