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Jailed Egyptian blogger on hunger strike, in critical condition

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.

Maikel Nabil Sanad (photo: Sanad's Facebook page)

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.

Maikel writes:

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…”

–Maikel Nabil

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    1. Bosko

      Kudos to +972 for publishing this story. At least you object to wrong when Arabs do it too. You should do it more often and us right wingers might start paying a bit more attention to what you say.
      Having said that, where are the usual suspects who jump on every story in which Israel appears to be the transgressor? They never miss an opportunity to demonize Israel? But what about this poor guy? Isn’t he an activist too? Where are you guys? Why don’t you condemn what the interim Egyptian government is doing to him? Where are his fellow Egyptian activists? Why aren’t they fighting for his rights? Because they say “he is pro Israel”? Is that a crime? In fact he is only pro peace with Israel, but that makes him pro Israel? Is that what the Arab spring is all about? Rejecting peace with Israel and throwing those who disagree with that into jail?
      You guys know who you are? Where are your voices to protest THIS wrong?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bosko

      The silence of the so called “human right activists” is deafening. Israel is not involved in this, so there is nothing about this story you guys can say, or want to say?
      Very telling about what your real agenda is ..

      Reply to Comment
    3. AYLA

      @Anonymous–thank you for honoring Maikel in this brave piece. I pray that he lives, and that his wish to benefit millions comes true. I hope that among those millions are the women he was fighting for.
      @Bosko. Give it a rest. For your own sake. Not everything is about your agenda (you).

      Reply to Comment
    4. Bosko

      I will give it a rest when I will get the sense that many so called human rights bloggers really care about human rights rather than promoting one side over the other irrespective of what is really happening in the real world.
      Thank you for showing that at least you are not one of them by speaking up for this poor guy.

      Reply to Comment
    5. AYLA

      @Bosko–thank you. and. it is my belief that supporting one people–and responding to injustices committed in one’s own name–does not mean being for one side and against another. It is my belief that this very idea of separateness is our biggest problem on earth.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Deïr Yassin

      Cut the crap, Bosko. If the guy had been Palestinian, you wouldn’t give a damn. Your support shows no sincerity. In your first comment you start right out by blaming others for not commenting on this story and so you do again again in your next comment. Hypocrite.
      Did we see you showing any comprehension for the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, and do we care ?
      Your pseudo-empathy with Mikael Nabil Sanad is cheap.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Bosko

      You cut the crap Deir Yassin. At least I admit that not everything that Israel does is perfect. But what about you? All you are here for is to tell us how bad Israel is and how innocent you Palestinian Arabs are. So long as the likes of you predominate amongst Palestinian Arabs, there won’t be peace.
      As for Palestinian Arabs who commit terrorism against civilians, they belong in jail. All this guy did is express his opinions and voila, he ends up in jail. Do you approve of that St Yassin? I guess you couldn’t give a flying f…k about it because he is not a Palestinian Arab and it’s not Israel who put him in jail. So much for the “Arab Spring”. At this rate it will turn out to be an Arab winter thanks to people like you St Yassin

      Reply to Comment
    8. Bosko

      Although I am secular, I believe in the maxim of Rabbi Hillel who lived about 2000 years ago. One of his sayings was …
      “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’?”
      What does it mean? It means that we need to live as good a life as possible but we do need to look out for our own self interest because if we don’t, no one else will. On the other hand, if all we do is that, then what are we? Think about it. Hillel had an incredible wisdom …

      Reply to Comment
    9. AYLA

      but @Bosko–you did not respond to the content of this blog post. you thanked me for “speaking up for this poor guy”, but you did not speak about, to, or for him. Not really–certainly not in any pure (or direct) way. You have an agenda, and you see everything through this lens. It’s exhausting. And now, I think we owe @ANONYMOUS a big apology, all of us, for making our response about his friend, who is sacrificing his life and dying because he tried to get the word out about abuse of women in his country, about us. I’m sorry, ANONYMOUS. I won’t respond any more to this thread. And I trust you can see how many people have shared your words on their facebook pages. that means that tens of thousands of people know about Maikel, and I hope that many are praying for him. I am.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Deïr Yassin

      Yeah, Bosko. Everybody who’s read your first two comments can see for themselves that you’re only worried to show your empathy because he’s imprisonned in an Arab country. You look like one of those who go to a funeral, cry a maximum, and look around to see whether people have noticed.
      Why don’t you go show the same empathy on the articles dedicated to Palestinian prisonners in Israel.

      FYI: the story of Mikael Nabil Sanad has been out since spring, and HuffingtonPost, Amnesty International, and various bloggers have already mentioned his case, but what do you care ? Nah, you just wanted to show how GOOD you are, and how BAD the people who didn’t comment here are. Pathetic…and as I said your insincerity shines through.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Bosko

      Nah Deir Yassin. I wanted to do two things …
      First: I genuinely feel sorry for this guy.
      Second: I wanted to show my disdain of the likes of you because of your selective interest about human rights. In fact, I didn’t have to do anything other than highlight your hypocrisy. Your ilk is not interested in genuine human rights. Otherwise you wouldn’t be so selective about speaking up about it in all cases. Not just when it serves your agenda.
      Me? I am no angel either. I admit that I am biased towards Israel but that does not mean that I am totally uncritical. On the other hand I never heard you admit to any wrong that your people did or still do.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Bosko

      Deir Yassin said …
      “FYI: the story of Mikael Nabil Sanad has been out since spring, and HuffingtonPost, Amnesty International, and various bloggers have already mentioned his case”
      Really, Yassin? And tell us, how many of his fellow Egyptian activists spoke out on his behalf? Clue: Please read the above article clearly. I quote from it below …
      “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”
      It seems that many of them too, like you, are selective about human rights. This guy is not their guy so he can rot in jail as far as they are concerned. Shame on them and shame on you too Yassin.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Deïr Yassin

      @ Bosko
      “I wanted to show the disdain for the likes of you because of your selective interest about human rights blahblahblah”.
      You know s… about me, and what I do professionally and privately, and whether I care about human rights elsewhere or not.
      I’m on this blog because it deals with Palestinian issues, and not to blow smoke like you: ‘see, it’s worse elsewhere’.
      I’ve spent years of my childhood in a country ruled by dictators, and it was neither Arab nor Muslim dictators, so no need to tell me about abuses elsewhere. I might even know people who lost close relatives due to torture, so cut the crap !

      Reply to Comment
    14. Bosko

      Deir Yassin said …
      “You know s… about me, and what I do”
      True, but you seem to think that you know a lot about me yet your own saying applies in the reverse too.
      Having said that, what you say in sites like these reveals a lot about your attititudes and views and I am perfectly entitled to respond on the basis of what you choose to reveal about yourself. And yes, the same applies in reverse too.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Bosko

      @Deir Yassin, you say …
      “I’ve spent years of my childhood in a country ruled by dictators, and it was neither Arab nor Muslim dictators, so no need to tell me about abuses elsewhere”
      But I was talking about the “New” Egypt and the “Arab Spring”. Aren’t you at least worried that by treating this poor guy this way, just for expressing his views, and that his fellow activists have very little interest of his treatment, again, probably because they disagree with some of his views, aren’t you worried that nothing will change in Egypt and that it will revert to a dictatorship?

      Reply to Comment
    16. Bosko – Shut up.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Bosko

      Lisa Goldman
      Am I irritating you? You cannot stand opinions who disagree with yours?
      Or is it the way I talk to Deir Yassin? Because you should check how she talks to me. I’ll stop here but I don’t know where your hostility comes from. Nor do I really care. The worst that you guys can do to me is to ban me. Do so if you wish. Be my guest.

      Reply to Comment
    18. No, really. Shut up. A grieving friend wrote this post and your crass insensitivity is embarrassing me. Stop it. Now.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Bosko

      My insensitivity, Lisa? You must be joking right? If you place a blog on line for discussion, then it should be open for discussion from all angles. Or you should put out a warning sign that the likes of me should tippeee toe around the topic else risk being banned. Next time, if you post things that cause you to be sensitive about it, then just bar discussion on the topic. Put it out as an editorial. Just my suggestion which you will probably ignore on principle.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Bosko, grow up and stop being a petulant child. Your comments are mostly idiotic and I mostly ignore them. In this case you are truly embarrassing me.

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    21. Bosko

      Lisa I am not embarrassing you. We have nothing to do with each other you are not responsible for me. I’ll tell you what though, you are embarrassing yourself for this unwarranted rude way in which you asked me to desist. You could have tried asking me more politely to stop (at least to start with). But really, seeing that you are this sensitive about this topic, you shouldn’t have posted this blog in the first place. Anyway, I am done with you.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Good that you are finally done.

      Reply to Comment
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