Last March, an Egyptian blogger named Mikael Nabil Sanad, 26, was arrested and accused of insulting and defaming the military. The catalyst for the arrest was a blog post he wrote at the beginning of the month, in which he accused the army of forcing female activists arrested at Tahrir to undergo virginity tests. Several weeks later, the army admitted that they had done this. Sanad also called for an end to military conscription, proposing that army service be voluntary rather than compulsory. He was put on trial in a closed military court and sentenced to three years in jail, thus earning the dubious distinction of becoming the first political prisoner of the post-Mubarak era.
His sentence elicited condemnations from several prominent international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, PEN International and Reporters Without Borders.
On August 23, Sanad began a hunger strike. His family says he is now in critical condition, and might not live until his upcoming court date on October 11.
Sanad describes himself on his Facebook page as a ‘liberal, secular Egyptian.’ According to his blog, which has pages in Arabic, English and Hebrew, he is also a supporter of Israel. This is an extremely unusual position in Egypt, where Israel is about as popular as Hezbollah is in Israel. Sanad’s arrest and imprisonment have nothing to do with his position on Israel; but several Egyptian suggested on Twitter that the lack of popular support among Egypt’s January 25 activists is due to his views on Israel.
Below is an emotional essay – a plea, really – about Mikael Nabil Sanad. It is written by an Egyptian who wishes to be known only as Anonymous.
What is there to say about a man whose courage and strength have kept him going without food for 45 days? This man’s belief is not in a God nor is his purpose self-cleansing or self-control…This man believes in something we didn’t think anyone would still sacrifice so dearly and painfully for…and that is freedom.
What is man’s truth? Is it what science tells him to be true? Is it what his religion states to be so? I guess no matter where we derive our truths from and substantiate them, truths are ultimately what we refuse to deny. This man, has refused to deny his right to freedom, because he believes in it.
Maikel Nabil Sanad is a blogger. Doesn’t matter if you know him or not…doesn’t matter who he was before today. Because ultimately, there are very few things in this story that matter, few, but paramount.
This blogger did a little investigative writing, and published a post enlisting facts, references, testimonials, videos and pictures all shedding light on different violations committed by the Egyptian Army during and post the Egyptian 2011 Revolution. Maikel published his post on March 7, 2011.
On the 23rd day of the same month, Maikel was arrested and taken from his home. He was tried in a military court and sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting the military institution, dissemination of false news and disturbing public security.”
This makes Maikel the first political prisoner since the January 25 revolution.
With futile attempts to make this a public cause over the course of his imprisonment until today, Maikel adamantly decided to go on a hunger strike exactly four months later, on August 23. He has been on one since.
To wonder why Egyptians haven’t taken to the streets by now to demand his release for the clear injustice taking place here, is naively appropriate. To cut a long story short – it is Maikel’s support for Israel that stops them.
I thought long and hard about whether I should bring that up or not, because I genuinely believe it is of little significance what he believes in or supports politically. But it is a fact, that due to his outcast opinions and views, he finds little support till this day for his cause.
It is also a fact, that a majority of Egyptians would rather condemn you to death than disagree with your views. Their freedoms and understanding of such liberties have lines that are never to be crossed. In their view for someone like Maikel crossed them and thus deserves his death. Because Israel is a social stigma in Egypt: How can one of our very own support it? Never mind what his reasons are or his argument, he shouldn’t dare argue. Let him rot in jail; let him learn his lesson.
The irony is, lest anyone has forgotten, that Maikel is not being persecuted by his jailers for his views on Israel. He is not accused of espionage nor treason. Maikel is in prison today for daring to ‘insult’ them.
Maikel has been repeatedly threatened, beaten, blackmailed and terrorized. With medication for his heart condition stopped due to the hunger strike, and his body rapidly failing, the authorities have not transferred him to a hospital, despite his family’s expressed willingness to pay all the expenses.
Over the course of his hunger strike, Maikel temporarily stopped his intake of water for 9 days. After his trial on Oct 4 was postponed to Oct 11, Maikel officially stopped intake of all fluids.
This young man believed whatever landed him in this prison cell, that he has the right and freedom to practice it. Be it his support for Israel or his blog post or even his very right to go on a hunger strike. Simply put, Maikel believes in freedom. So simply, that our complex minds may find it difficult to understand. Maikel is not fighting for freedom in a war with a gun over his shoulder, he’s not fighting for it behind a podium or in an office, he is not fighting for it in a classroom or a TV screen, he’s fighting for it in a small prison cell, with the only things he has, his mind and life.
Whenever I feel that I’m dying because of the hunger strike, I remember Mohamed ElBouAzizy…Mohamed ElBouAzizy is my biggest source of strength and encouragement through this strike…Mohamed ElBouAzizy’s death was the start of an Arab Spring that changed Humanity’s history…this is what I tell myself: It’s okay to die, if my death will be of benefit to millions of people after me.
Emotional as I might be, I am humbled and ashamed as I write whatever I know about Maikel. We might live entire lives never coming close to even knowing of such bravery and resilience. It’s the kind of stories we watch in movies and read in books, and it’s happening in our lifetime, for our lifetime, for our generation and the ones to follow.
Maikel is choosing to give his life, as painfully and slowly as possible. It’s his ability to stand his grounds that amazes me so much, his overwhelming will power that sees him through the torture that comes with every second. All for freedom.
I wish I could have known a man like him…or alternatively, perhaps I wish he never existed. He is left to die in jail for words he wrote. He is dismissed for views he has, and meanwhile is sacrificing his life for a concept his people do not comprehend.
“Freedom has a price, and we must pay it…”