The jailed Egyptian revolutionary Alaa Abd El Fattah has written a secret letter from his prison cell, accusing the country’s military rulers of murder and lamenting what he views as the army’s hijacking of the revolution.
The letter, produced covertly from inside Bab el-Khalq prison where Abd El Fattah is being held, was handed to his pregnant wife, Manal, during a visit on Monday. It is being published in Arabic by the Egyptian newspaper al-Shorouk and in English by the Guardian, and is likely to intensify the growing divisions between Egypt’s increasingly repressive army junta and pro-change activists on the street.
Abd El Fattah, one of Egypt’s most prominent anti-regime voices and a former political prisoner under the Mubarak dictatorship, was taken into military custody on Sunday evening following public criticisms of the army’s conduct on the night of 9 October, when at least 27 people were killed during a Coptic Christian protest in downtown Cairo.
Like many other activists, Abd El Fattah accused the army of direct involvement in the bloodshed, a claim that appears to be supported by extensive witness reports and video footage. He was charged by military prosecutors with “inciting violence against the army”, and is being held initially for 15 days – a detention period that can be renewed indefinitely by the authorities. His arrest has provoked outrage across the Middle East and beyond.
Alaa Abd El Fattah’s letter begins: I never expected to repeat the experience of five years ago: after a revolution that deposed the tyrant, I go back to his jails?
The memories come back to me, all the details of imprisonment; the skills of sleeping on the floor, nine men in a six-by-12-foot (two-by-four-metre) cell, the songs of prison, the conversations. But I absolutely can’t remember how I used to keep my glasses safe while I slept.
They have been stepped on three times already today. I suddenly realise they’re the same glasses that were with me in my last imprisonment; the one for supporting the Egyptian judiciary in 2006. And that I am locked up, again pending trial, again on a set of loose and flimsy charges – the one difference is that instead of the state security prosecutor we have the military prosecutor – a change in keeping with the military moment we’re living now.
Last time my imprisonment was shared with 50 colleagues from the “Kifaya” movement. This time, I’m alone, in a cell with eight men who shouldn’t be here; poor, helpless, unjustly held – the guilty among them and the innocent.
As soon as they learned I was one of the “young people of the revolution” they started to curse out the revolution and how it had failed to clean up the ministry of the interior. I spend my first two days listening to stories of torture at the hands of a police force that insists on not being reformed; that takes out its defeat on the bodies of the poor and the helpless.