Friday, November 11, 2011

The heart of an activist

Until a few weeks ago, I knew Alaa Abdel Fattah simply as '@alaa,' a handle and a picture I had followed on Twitter for nearly two years.

I didn't realize until he was detained by Egypt's military prosecution last month that Alaa is the brother of Mona Seif, another Tweep I've followed for nearly two years and only met a few months ago and a staunch supporter of Egypt's No Military Trials for Civilians initiative.

On October 30, 2011 Alaa voluntarily responded to a summons by Egypt's military prosecution. In fact, he didn't just respond, he flew back to Egypt from the United States specifically to attend the summons. Alaa is essentially accused of attacking the military during violent clashes that left 27 dead on October 9 (read my experience that night here).

Alaa then refused to be investigated by the military prosecution on the grounds that he is a civilian, and he was consequently remanded into custody for investigation.

He's still in custody.

I've never met Alaa, but there are some things I know about him through others and through the actions of others. I know that Alaa is willing to fight for a cause he believes in. I know that Alaa is a person to be respected, in part because of the massive outpouring of support after his detention. I know that without people like Alaa, Egypt's January uprising would never have begun or been sustained.

Dozens of Egyptian activists and supporters have changed their user pictures on Twitter to versions of Alaa's avatar; a '#freealaa' campaign has flourished; some activists have changed their Facebook pictures to a picture of Alaa; political activist and long-time public figure Gameela Ismail announced a delay in the launch of her electoral campaign over Alaa's imprisonment; and Alaa's mother has begun a hunger strike.

In interviews posted on YouTube, Alaa is thoughtful and somehow reserved, but determined. The night before he flew back to Egypt to respond to the summons, an interviewer asked him why he was going back, why he didn't just stay in the United States.

"I've personally carried the bodies of comrades who did not run away from bullets. I cannot live with myself if I run away from something much more trivial," said Alaa. "How would I look at myself in the mirror if I hide or run away?"

Alaa's wife, Manal, was nine months pregnant with their first child when her husband responded to the military summons. It's reminiscent of Alaa's early years: his father was imprisoned and tortured as a political detainee.

This video gives you a look into the life of Alaa and his parents; how he was raised to be the man he is. In short, it gives some insight into the heart of an activist who embodies the spirit that inspired and sustained Egypt's January uprising; the determination and strength of spirit that continues to give me hope for Egypt's future:

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