Egypt’s jailed activist Alaa Abdelfatah brings up second nationality for the first time as patience runs dry

This article was originally written by Dahlia Kholaif and published on GlobalVoices.org on April 19, 2022.

Alaa Abd El Fattah, Egypt’s prominent blogger who began a hunger strike more than two weeks ago to protest his imprisonment, is demanding, for the first time following years in prison, that he be granted rights as both a British and Egyptian citizen.

Flagging his British nationality for the first time as his morale dropped and hope of release grew dimmer, Alaa’s sister, Mona Seif, wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday, April 16:

His demands:
As an Egyptian citizen: to assign a judge to investigate the complaints he has already submitted, which document the violations he has been subjected to since the day he was abducted on September 29, 2019.

As a British citizen: for the British Consulate to be allowed to visit him in prison.
And to enable him to communicate with our lawyers in the U.K so that they can take all possible legal measures regarding not only the violations he has been subjected to, but all the crimes against humanity he has witnessed during his imprisonment.

He has British citizenship through his mother, Laila Soueif, a mathematics professor at Cairo University who was born in London while her own mother was completing her PhD studies.

Alaa was an integral voice in the years preceding 2011’s revolution that led to political shifts that eventually saw the ouster of long term president Hosni Mubarak in what could now be regarded as the only partial achievement of Egypt’s Arab Spring. He refuses to succumb to a bogus trial by the emergency state security court that denied him the basic right to defend himself, sentencing him in December to two years in prison over charges of spreading false news. His two-year pretrial detention is not counted as part of the sentence.

The author of recently-published book “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated” is being held in solitary confinement, deprived of books and the right to exercise. Refusing to be defeated despite a previous five-year sentence which he had completed only months before he was taken in again to ultimately be served the current sentence, Alaa has had episodes in which his deteriorating  mental health has raised concerns after mentioning committing suicide to his lawyer during a visit.

According to a calculation by Mada Masr, an independent news website, Alaa has spent only 185 days out of prison since the Egyptian uprising took off on 25 January 2011.

The son of two distinguished human rights defenders, and the brother of two other brave activists, Alaa joined on the first day of Muslims’ holy month of fasting other detained liberal activists who started a hunger strike against the inhumane prison conditions they’re locked up in.

Announcing the beginning of his hunger strike, Alaa’s sister Mona wrote on Facebook on April 5:

Good evening,

In today’s visit to Alaa Abd El Fattah I learned from him that he began a hunger strike with the start of Ramadan, or April 2 2022. He’s been thinking of this decision for a while but made up his mind and began the strike officially. Alaa is very angry, but today’s rage is very different from the dark period we entered in September. Alaa is angry but his decision is not reckless. He took a calculated decision and is determined to fight this battle even if we – his family – can’t do anything to help him.
My impression is that this is different from any time he decided to go on hunger strike. This [time] is probably similar to when he staged a hunger strike when [our] dad’s health deteriorated and passed away. What I’m trying to say is that this time is different. Alaa sees no point in enduring the terrible conditions he’s in, and being deprived of a safe space where he can see Khalid (his son), and reducing his mind, his thoughts, his feelings and dreams, and turning him into a body that is locked up in a cell with two others and is expected to preserve his physical wellness for an unknown period of time.
I went to the visit worried that Alaa decided the hunger strike especially amidst reports that a number of our imprisoned friends – especially [Ahmed] Douma – have begun hunger strikes in Tora Farm Prisons, and I had prepared a list of reasons to use to convince him to be a “bit more” patient.
However, aside from the fact that he began the hunger strike indeed, what I saw today got me convinced that his decision is very understandable even if very very painful.
What I saw is a rightfully angry human being who decided to fight his battle himself and with his body, in the face of an authority that is using all twisted means to terminate him. I saw my brother shake off the state he was in for months and decided to resist.
In high-security prison 2, in a cell without exercising or books, and with a 5-year verdict from the Emergency State Security Court, with no appeal, and the court did not even hold a trial and pleading ceremony, and all this after him already serving a previous 5-year sentence.
In the midst of all this, the only available way for him to resist is this: complete the full hunger strike.
We, his family and his loved ones, can do nothing but try in every way to support him in his battle, especially since he is right and has been patient for more than two years in the face of being constantly let down by all sides and officials. Alaa requested us to pursue many procedures and steps that we review with lawyers and coordinate with each other in the family, and we will share with you all the updates. Of course, we will provide updates about his strike.
What we ask of you is, in the middle of a month, and amidst so many social events and activities, and a planet that is so mired in disasters and various political news, to help us convey the voice of Alaa and all the detainees on hunger strike so not to forget them or get desensitized to what they are in.

SMEX

SMEX is a registered Lebanese NGO that works to advance self-regulating information societies in the Middle East and North Africa.