Review: Kim Ghattas on Alaa Abd el-Fattah
Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah stands in a defendant’s cage while on trial in Cairo with twenty-four other defendants, including former Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, May 23, 2015 (photo by Mostafa el-Shemy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Every morning, like millions around the world, I check Twitter for the latest news, headlines, and updates. But every morning, for years now, I check one account in particular to find out: Has he been defeated? And I breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that Mona Seif, sister of jailed political activist and blogger Alaa Abd el-Fattah, has posted about Alaa’s health on hunger strike in an Egyptian jail or another action to raise awareness of his case. He has not been defeated, I think to myself, then neither has the revolution. Not yet.
Although Alaa put an end to his six-month hunger strike in mid-November, he is withering physically; he is, in his own words, the “ghost of spring past.” Alaa is the most visible, potent symbol of the Arab Spring, the 2011 revolutions that swept the Arab world and, in Egypt, brought down longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. He has spent most of the past decade behind bars: officially, on charges of spreading false news on Facebook; in reality, because he is a free thinker and activist whose intellect and vision threaten thin-skinned, vindictive dictators like Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He comes from a family of activists: his own father, human rights defender and lawyer Ahmed Seif al-Islam Hamad was detained twice during the presidency of Anwar el-Sadat and twice under Mubarak, including a five-year stint in prison, during which he was badly tortured. In the age of social media, his son’s reach extends beyond Egypt, beyond the Arab world—Alaa represents a global generation struggling for civil rights, dignity, and justice, from Egypt to Iran to China.