To write on behalf of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, please send an email to info[at]scottishpen[dot]org with "WARC enquiry" in the subject line.
Alaa Abd El-Fattah is a British-Egyptian citizen, an award-winning writer and software developer, and an Honorary Member of English PEN. He is currently serving a five-year prison sentence in Egypt following a grossly unfair trial before The Emergency State Security Court. The sentence, handed down in December 2021, has been widely condemned by leading international human rights organisations, including PEN International, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Human Rights Watch.
According to his family, Alaa Abd El-Fattah has been subjected to torture and ill-treatment on multiple occasions since his imprisonment. The Egyptian authorities have failed to adequately investigate Abd El-Fattah’s allegations of torture and ill-treatment, despite a series of complaints filed by him and his family since September 2019. For over two years, he was denied access to basic necessities, including a mattress, bed sheets, books, and newspapers.
On 2 April 2022, Alaa Abd El-Fattah began a hunger strike to protest his arbitrary imprisonment and detention conditions. As of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2022, Alaa’s family received a letter from him saying that he had broken his hunger strike of more than seven months. They are waiting to visit him on his birthday on 17 November to find out more about what has transpired.
Extract from You Have Not Yet Been Defeated
Unlike me, you have not yet been defeated.
I don’t have much to say by way of advice. I am, after all, out of touch and slightly outdated. The best I can do is repeat themes I used to touch upon when participating in conferences like these in the past (the last time was 2011 I think):
Fix your own democracy: This has always been my answer to the question ‘How can we help?’ I still believe it’s the only possible answer. Not only is where you live, work, vote, pay tax and organise the place where you have more influence, but a setback for human rights in a place where democracy has deep roots is certain to be used as an excuse for even worse violations in societies where rights are more fragile. I trust recent events made it evident that there is much that needs fixing. I look forward to being inspired by how you go about it.
Don’t play the game of nations: We lose much when you allow your work to be used as an instrument of foreign policy, no matter how benign your current ruling coalition is. We risk much when human rights advocacy becomes a weapon in a cold war (just as the Arab revolutions were lost when revolutionaries found themselves unwitting and unwilling recruits in foreign proxy wars between regional powers). We reach out to you not in search of powerful allies but because we confront the same global problems, and share universal values, and with a firm belief in the power of solidarity.
Defend complexity and diversity: No change to the structure of, or organisation of, the internet can make my life safer. My online speech is often used against me in the courts and in smear campaigns, but it isn’t the reason why I’m prosecuted: my offline activity is. My late father served a similar term for his activism before there was a web. What the internet has truly changed is not political dissent, but rather social dissent. We must protect it as a safe space where people can experiment with gender and sexual identities, explore what it means to be gay or a single mom or an atheist or a Christian in the Middle East, but also what is means to be black and angry in the US, to be Muslim and ostracised in Europe, or to be a coal miner in a world that must cut back on greenhouse gases. The internet is the only place where all different modes of being Palestinian can meet. If I express this precariousness in symbolic violence, will you hear me out? Will you protect me from both prosecution by the establishment and exploitation by the well-funded fringe extremists?
Assert your right to be a creator not a consumer: We love tech because it allows us to be performers in our own spectacle, the storytellers in our own narrative and the philosophers of our own discourse. Not an eyeball for advertisers or a demographic for pollsters. Keep it that way, please. Keep it that way.