[The following is an English translation of a letter circulating in social media by Egyptian activist Mahienour El-Masry, who is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for allegedly organizing an unauthorized protest during the Khalid Said murder retrial. The letter was translated by Reem Abou-El-Fadl]
I do not know much about what is going on outside, ever since the sentence against me was upheld. But I can imagine, based on what we used to do when one of our “circle” was imprisoned, that slogans of “freedom for X” and “freedom for the brave” and so on are now filling up cyberspace.
As for me, ever since I came to Damanhour Women’s Prison, and was placed with the prisoners of Ward 1 – relating to Public Funds Fraud – all I can repeat is “down with this classist order.” Most of the prisoners in the ward with me are in jail because of IOUs they could not pay back, whether it was a woman buying furniture for her daughter’s marital home, a woman collecting funds for her husband’s medical treatment, or a woman who borrowed 2000 pounds only to discover that she owes three million.
The ward itself is a small society: the rich get all they need, and the poor sell their labor while in prison. The ward is a small society, in which the prisoners discuss current affairs in our country. Here I found women who support al-Sisi based on their belief that if he wins, he will grant amnesty to those imprisoned in IOU cases. There are some who choose him because he will deal with terrorist demonstrations with an iron fist – that is, despite their sympathy for me and their feeling that I am probably innocent and wrongly imprisoned. There are others who support Hamdeen because he is the son of the same earth, and because they believe that he promised to free the prisoners – only to be screamed at by the first camp, who insist that Hamdeen was referring only to political prisoners. And there are still others who see the whole process as a farce, and say that if they had been abroad they would have boycotted the elections.
The ward is a small society. I feel that I am among my family – they all advise me to focus on my future prospects when I get out. I tell them that the people deserve better, and that we have not yet attained justice, and that we will keep trying to build a better society. Then I hear the news that Hosni Mubarak has been given three years in the presidential palaces case, and I laugh and tell them: obviously the regime believes that Um Ahmad, who has been in prison for eight years and has six left, because of cheques whose value does not come to more than 50,000 pounds, is more dangerous than Mubarak. So what future prospects do you want me to look out for in an unjust society?
Mubarak, who supports al-Sisi, is seen by the prisoners as their saviour. But they still talk about social justice and the classist society without trouble. We must not forget our main goal in this battle of ours, in which we are losing our friends and comrades. We must not turn into groups that call for the freedom of X, and forget the demands of the people, who need to eat. Alongside chanting against the Protest Law, we must work to bring down the classist order, and organize ourselves, engage with the people, and talk about the rights of the poor and our solutions for them, and we must call for the freedom of the poor, so that people do not feel that we are distant from them.
Ultimately, if we have to raise the slogan “freedom for X,” then I say freedom for Sayyida, Hiba, and Fatma–three girls I met at the police station, accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, among other charges that can lead to death sentences. They were arrested randomly, and their detention has been renewed since January without them ever appearing in court.
Freedom for Um Ahmad who has not seen her children for eight years, and freedom for Um Dina, who is the breadwinner in her family, and freedom for Ne’ma, who accepted illegal means to feed her children. Freedom for Farha, Wafaa’, Kawthar, Sanaa’, Dawlat, Samia, Iman, Amal and Mervat. Our pain is nothing in comparison to theirs. We know that there is someone thinking of us, openly proud because they know us, whereas those who are proud to know them only speak about this in family gatherings.
So down with this classist society. We will not be able to achieve that unless we never forget the truly oppressed.
Room 8 – Ward 1
22 May 2014