Alaa, Egyptian blogger, interviewed on Democracy Now

In this excerpt from his interview on Democracy Now, which can be read in full here, the just-released Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah gives his view of the current stage of the Egyptian revolution:

    AMY GOODMAN: Alaa, you, in court, refused to answer questions of the military court. Can you explain why, and also who you think should be on trial now? You’re among more than 12,000 people since Mubarak fell, civilians, who have been imprisoned and are being brought before these military courts.

    ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: Yeah. These are more like military tribunals, right? They’re not proper courts at all. And in fact, in the early days of the revolution, there wasn’t even a pretense of being a proper court, like there were hundreds who were tried in the kitchens of the military prison. Their trials would take five minutes. They wouldn’t be told what are their—what the charges are. They wouldn’t be allowed defense, and so on.

    Since then, we started quite a successful campaign against military tribunals, against military trials for civilians. And so they had to, instead of, you know, heeding our demand and stopping the practice, they had to improve the show. You know, so then they started pretending that it’s a proper court, have three judges present—they are not judges, or they are army officers—allow a defense, you know, let the case take its time, talk about evidence, and so on. But in most cases, there will be no acquittal, you know, and there’s no proper appeals process. There’s an appeals process that—in which some military officer decides, based on their own whims, whether they accept the appeal or not. It’s not a legal process, and so on. So, basically, it’s not a proper court. There’s no due process. They are no guarantees that it’s a fair trial. And so, it is the natural and obvious thing to do, actually, to refuse to appear before the court.

    I couldn’t refuse to appear before it, because I was abroad. I was in San Francisco, actually, when my summons arrived, when they sent my summons to my place. So I had to go—I had to go back to Egypt and hand myself in. Otherwise, they would have, you know, treated me or painted me as a fugitive. But I had to refuse to, you know, cooperate at all in the investigation because it is not a fair trial. But there is also another reason. You know, the military are the guilty party in that incident, and they, the military, the military rulers, you know, the members of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, should be the ones who are being investigated and should be the ones who are being put to trial. And so, these military officers, who will be acting like judges, are under their command, so they cannot be neutral, they cannot be impartial.

    And so, basically, we refused to cooperate, and we demanded that the case be transferred to a civilian judge and that—we mentioned specific generals, General Hamdi Badin, who is the head of the military police, General Rouini, who is the head of the—I don’t know what you call it—the sector of the army that covers Cairo, as the people directly responsible for the killings on the 9th of October. And in fact, the campaign, my refusal to talk, the efforts of our human rights lawyers and the return of the protesters in Tahrir, in Tahrir Square, were effective enough so that the case was transferred to a civilian prosecutor. They initially moved it to the state security prosecutor, which is still extraordinary justice. There’s no appeals process. But with further pressure, it was moved to a proper judge. And it was that judge who released me, who ordered my release.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: Alaa, the first anniversary—

    ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: I am still pending investigation, so I am still accused.

    NERMEEN SHAIKH: The first anniversary of the January 25th revolution is coming up next month. And one of your cellmates in prison said to you that — and this is a quote — “I swear by God if this revolution doesn’t do something radical about injustice, it will sink without a trace.” Do you think there’s a chance that this revolution will sink without a trace?

    ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: No, I’m very optimistic about our chances. But it’s very difficult to predict when—you know, when we’re going to make more wins, and so on. I think it’s going to be a lengthy process. I think the price is going to be very high. I mean, the recent—the recent crackdowns that happened like in the past few weeks, there’s a sense that they’re now targeting people, that the killings are not random anymore, that they’re picking who to kill. The intensity of the torture is much higher. I think the whole world have seen how they try to use sexual violence, and specifically against women and in public, to, you know, strike some fear into us. So, what comes next might be even tougher and even more difficult, but I don’t think that this revolution is going to end without—without really completely renegotiating the order of power in Egypt and across the Arab world.

    AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about one of the—what I think you’ve just alluded to. Yesterday, an Egyptian civilian court ruled forced virginity tests on female detainees in military prisons were illegal. Samira Ibrahim, the woman who brought the case against these tests after being subjected to one earlier this year, was cheered by hundreds of activists inside the courtroom yesterday after the ruling was read out.

    EGYPTIAN ACTIVIST: [translated] Today we stand in solidarity with our sister Samira against the various and continuous military abuses, whether they’re against Egypt’s women or revolutionary youth, with the goal of removing our revolution from squares and streets. But we will never let go of our rights. Whether youth or women, we will always participate. We will not quiet down until we see our country on the right path.

    AMY GOODMAN: Alaa, the significance of this ruling on the illegality of forced virginity tests?

    ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: I think the significance is not actually legal, because they—I mean, what the court ruled is that the action was always illegal, and I think the people who practiced it knew that it was always illegal. So the significance is on a much more symbolic, but much more profound levels. In one way, Samira was—you know, Samira talked about her ordeal very early on, at a moment when the military was very popular in Egypt, at a moment when everybody believed that the revolution is over, it has achieved its goals by toppling Mubarak. And also—so, just talking about military injustice was breaking a taboo. But also, you know, talking about sexual violence, that she was personally subjected to, and the framing of it as a virginity test—you know, so it’s not even framed as rape, which is what it is, but it’s framed as a virginity test, which brings in question whether she’s a virgin or not, and so on—that also took a lot of courage and was breaking another taboo. And for a very long time, for weeks and weeks and weeks, she was subjected to a lot of criticism and a lot of pressure, sometimes from people who appeared to be supporters of the revolution, sometimes from people who are among the political elite, and even from, you know, from people who pretend to be feminists and so on. And so, that ruling is—represents a wide recognition in Egyptian society, and even within the Egyptian state, you know, through its judicial branch, of that injustice, of the truth behind Samira’s words and of the injustice in her ordeal—

    AMY GOODMAN: Alaa—

    ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: —and of, you know—

    AMY GOODMAN: We just have a minute, and I wanted to ask a quick—

    ALAA ABD EL FATTAH: —her honor, in a way.

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