Alaa Abdul-Fattah, a prominent Egyptian activist, voice for the Arab Spring revolutions, was imprisoned for most of the past decade. He started a hunger strike on April 2nd. He is now 40 years old. He is the latest charge for spreading “fake news” — a phrase borrowed from former President Donald Trump — Egyptian authorities extended his sentence by five more years.
Abd El-Fattah’s activism began in the early 2000s. He was a leader of the Egyptian blogging movement, along with Manal Bahey Eldin Hassan. This format became a powerful tool in campaigns for freedom of speech, democracy, and the end to torture.
In 2006, Egyptian bloggers, with Abd El-Fattah, took their activism to the streets and organized a national protest in solidarity with judges who were prosecuted by former President Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial regime for advocating judicial independence. Trained as a software developer, he provided technological support, including hosting the work of many activist bloggers and protecting them from targeting by the regime’s security apparatus. Abd El-Fattah was briefly held.
Abd El-Fattah was a soldier on the front lines at Tahrir Square during Egypt’s revolution of 2011. After the ousting of President Mubarak, Abd El-Fattah launched two initiatives, “Tweet Nadwa” and “Let us write our Constitution,” to continue the mobilizations for the revolution and ensure the realization of its demands for freedom.
Abd El-Fattah was organizing youth for continued mobilization and ensuring their voices were taken seriously in processes such as the writing of the new constitution. He is especially known for resisting government plans to cover up the “Maspero massacre” of Coptic Christian demonstrators of October 2011 when the military killed 24 protesters, injured more than 200 and sought to bury their bodies without forensic examinations. Abd El-Fattah was detained by the Egyptian regime on October 30, 2011, after he documented the massacre with his activist comrades and because he was a leading voice in the revolution, particularly his resistance to military tribunals for civilians.
After her visitation on May 1, 2022, Abd El-Fattah’s sister Mona Abd El-Fattah posted on TwitterHe told her that his physical condition is rapidly deteriorating and that he was banned from speaking with anyone. He said that he might not see her again. On May 18, she wrote, “We need to make sure he is well and cared for and not terrorized and assaulted more.” To be sure, Abd El-Fattah’s life is at risk. We must also recognize the ways in which the Egyptian regime uses Abd El-Fattah, one of the most outspoken revolutionaries to suppress all Egyptian society.
And it’s not just Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Every autocratic leader, including President Mubarak, who was supported by the United States, was held captive before el-Sisi. He was followed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (previously President Mohamed Morsi), and finally President Mubarak. These same rulers have been imprisoned more than 65,000 political prisoners, Many of their cases were never tried in Court.
Egyptian rulers made Abd El-Fattah’s family, all leading voices in the struggle against torture and for democracy and human rights, symbols of what could happen to anyone who attempts to challenge them. His sister, Sanaa SeifBetween 2014 and 2021, he was incarcerated and beaten multiple times. The authoritarian regime was also behind the beatings of Abd El-Fattah’s mother Laila Souief Mona, his sister, and Abd El-Fattah when they were protesting his release. Abd El-Fattah’s father Ahmed SeifRecognized as the leading light Egyptian human rights, was detained for providing legal support to protesters during the 2011 Egyptian revolution before he died in 2014.
The U.S. is complicit. Since President Jimmy Carter’s administrationThe U.S. has provided simultaneous military aid in the amount of billions to Egypt and Israel as a result of the Camp David Accords. Since then, the human rights situation in Egypt and Palestine has only gotten worse.
Indeed, the U.S. continues to support dictators across the globe whose policies are in line with U.S. imperialism. In the name of combatting “communism” and “terrorism,” the U.S. also provides direct funding to sponsor coups against democratically elected regimes (i.e. Venezuela, 2002-03, while the CIA a. orchestratedMilitary coupsChile (1973) and Iran (1953).
Egypt receives $1.3 billionIn military aid per annum, while the U.S. fails Egypt to hold it accountable for upholding basic human right after the fall Mubarak. The U.S. supported Mubarak’s authoritarian regime in the context of the Arab Spring. They then coordinated with the military to expel Mubarak in order for a contained transfer of power and to protect U.S. interests throughout the region.
All Mubarak regimes were supported by the U.S., as well the military coup of 2013, which overthrew the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi. Beyond military aid, the U.S. administration continued sending tear gas, repression and surveillance technology to Egypt despite U.S. government and media rhetoric that celebrated Egyptian people’s revolution for democracy and calls from international human rights groups against such support.
To the U.S., Egypt is a “strategic ally” and host of U.S. naval medical research. The Egyptian government provides the U.S. with expedited naval access through the Suez Canal, and the U.S. government continuously expresses its admiration for Egypt’s role in what global superpowers call the “peace process” between Israelis and Palestinians, and what Palestinians experience as the normalization of Israeli colonization.
The Arab Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have played a critical role in supporting the counterrevolution against the Arab Spring Revolutions and their aftermath in Libya. They support autocratic and conservative regimes that spread fear and repression. The U.S. also stood back and watched as Saudi Arabia supported jihadis in Syria, who formed the core of what is now known as ISIS, only because the U.S. perceived Assad’s as a rogue regime.
Despite the U.S. intelligence finding that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of exiled Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S. continued to praise the crown prince for apparently promoting reforms related to free speech and women’s rights. Saudi Arabia continues to arrest journalists. feministsThank you for your efforts to achieve change.
Now, Abd El-Fattah is at risk of losing his life, one the most iconic figures from the Arab Spring revolutions that were celebrated around the world in 2011. It’s not surprising that this happened. Trump named el-Sisi his favorite dictator. It’s no surprise, then, that the cautious President Joe Biden prefers to keep things as they are with El-Sisi over addressing fundamental injustices in countries like Egypt, colonized Palestine, and Saudi Arabia.
Leftists mourn the passing a former member Weather Underground Kathy BoudinContinue fighting for journalist freedom and political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal,We should not forget about other political prisoners whose imprisonment and repression are enabled by U.S. assistance.
The Egyptian revolutionaries were a source of inspiration for many U.S. social movements, and helped us prepare to face the Trump era. They taught us how we could keep our hope alive despite state repression. Abd El-Fattah was also supportive of our movements, including Occupy Wall Street.
Many of us paid federal taxes last month that contributed to Abd El-Fattah’s imprisonment. Dollars misspent in our name do very real harm, including to inspiring individuals like Abd El-Fattah who is allowed to see his young son far too infrequently — and not at all now.
As is building grassroots movements, pressure on elected officials is essential. If social movements in the U.S.and Egypt joined forces, more political prisoners could be released. We could all stand together against American support for Egyptian political repression. We could draw attention to the fact that this support is being provided by the U.S. helps to strengthenThese systems criminalize Black communities, Indigenous and other communities of colour. We could also increase our solidarity due to the strong connections between U.S. foreign militarily aid and huge U.S. military expenditures and the high rates of poverty we see at home.
U.S. taxpayers should resist U.S. support of violent repression overseas, it is certain. Our society is often unaware of the global impact of U.S. foreign policy.
A greater public debate on how the U.S. supports dictators and global human rights violations could make a difference in our communities. For example, the U.S. prison system-industrial complex has been strengthened through the legalization of mass incarceration abroad. When Egypt is one of the top recipients of U.S. aid, Egypt’s incarceration of activists and public intellectuals like Abd El-Fattah has a ripple effect in our own communities. Militarist, carceral international politics means feeding chickens who will return to roost.
The pandemic of the last two years has made us feel disconnected from each other, but it also showed how interconnected our world is. The injustice of Abd El-Fattah’s incarceration may seem very removed from the disproportionate incarceration of Black communities in Chicago by a corrupt police force, but they flow from the abuse of power that starts in Washington and spreads across borders, transnationally.
On May 2, we organized an event featuring Abd El-Fattah’s sister Sanaa Seif in Chicago. She was speaking with a journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous and advocating for Abd El-Fattah’s release while reading from Abd El-Fattah’s new book, You Have Not Yet Been Defeated.
We were reminded at the event that Abd El-Fattah still gives us wisdom about how to keep hope beyond despair and when to face defeat. We also noticed how the Chicago-based organizations that supported Seif and Abdel Kouddous’s visit — including the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter, Love & Protect, the United States Palestinian Community Network, MAMAS and the Dissenters — helped foster what Abdel Kouddous called “radical friendship” from Chicago to Egypt. The audience seemed to have reached a common sentiment during the discussion: Hold on. The U.S. is funding the regime that imprisons our friend.
Seif reminded us that #freeAlaa does not just have a political dimension. It is about his death and his life.
We hope that everyone in the U.S. will be committed to justice, freedom, and human rights. support the struggle to free Abd El-Fattah as well as all Egyptian political prisoners. We hope that more people will join forces to protest the brutal effects of U.S.-backed dictatorships both globally and in our own backyard.