Maikel Nabil, Egyptian blogger and political activist, addresses the 4th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
Tom Gross: We have with us in this session, two very brave human rights and democracy activists, one from Egypt and the other from Iran and in the session that follows a young woman from Syria. All three have been imprisoned by their governments, where they were tortured and suffered greatly for asking for rights that we in the West take for granted.
The first speaker, Maikel Nabil, is a prominent young blogger and political activist who first began campaigning for a democratic Egypt in 2006. Maikel played a leading role in the demonstrations just over one year ago that brought down President Mubarak. But he was quickly arrested within a month of Mubarak’s fall, when he demanded that other members of Egypt’s ruling military seed power. Maikel then spent most of the last year in prison, 302 days in all. 80 days of which he was on hunger strike and almost died.
He spent many weeks in solitary confinement in a one meter by one meter cell. At other times, he was packed into a crowded cell with 50 common criminals. After a campaign, led by his younger brother and other supporters in Cairo, he was released seven weeks ago on January 24th, and as he came out of prison, he waved ‘V’ for victory sign to waiting photographers. Maikel has written blog posts in support of the rights of the individual in Egypt, in support of feminism, in support of those who want to want to campaign for gay rights, and he has also said that Egypt could learn much from the democratic aspects of neighboring Israel. Maikel.
Maikel Nabil: For months I felt guilt for not being beside my friends in Tahrir square. But no guilt, I was in jail. Seven weeks ago, I was in Tora prison in Cairo and I wasn’t allowed to use my phone, not to use [the] internet, not to communicate with my friends inside or outside Egypt. Wasn’t allowed to have newspapers daily and have great restrictions [in] receiving letters or even books. I was in complete isolation, meant to silence me and use me as a threat and as example to terrorize other human rights activists.
My name is Maikel Nabil and, as Tom said, I’m active and writing since the beginning of 2006. I joined several pro-democracy parties and political movements, and writing continuously and heavily in my blog since the end of 2006. Two years ago, I started a campaign and a movement against compulsory military service. We named it ‘No for Compulsory Military Service Movement.’ And it was the first anti-militarist and pacifist movement in Egypt. We are focusing [on] all the violations of the military institution. We are acting against wars, we are acting for peace. We are confronting military institutions with their violations and we are acting to end the compulsory military service in Egypt and to make Egypt recognize the right [of] conscientious objection. I myself, I declared that I’m refusing my military service [at] the end of 2010. The military wanted me to serve as an officer for three years And I said that this is going against my conscious and I can’t bear weapons, I can’t carry weapons, and I can’t kill anybody else, and I’m not supposed to hate someone or to kill someone because he’s different in me with me in a religions or in opinion, or in race or any other goals, and I believe that international conflict should be solved by non-violence and by negotiations, not by words and blood. The military intelligence, as military police arrested, me after my declaration and they gave me an exemption from military service, saying that I am insane, [that] I  hav[e] a mental problem. Two months later, what was [a] surprise that for the first time thousands of Egyptians joined our demonstration against the torturing and the violations of police officers. For several years, we managed to make several demonstrations against the cruel treatment [by] police officers. But it was usually in small numbers and the price of every party at this time, 25th of January 2011, that thousands joined and events passed and we have, on the 28th of January, the military on streets. At the time, the military propaganda was saying to everyone that the military is sticking aside, and he’s not supporting Mubarak and won’t shoot Egyptians. But in fact, they were doing the opposite. From the first moment of the military heading to streets, they were arresting activists, torturing them, military trialing them and was spreading rumors and propaganda against the revolution, saying that what happens in Egypt is an external conspiracy,  meant to destroy or harm the country. At the time, [the] majority of activists were supporting the military, and aiming to use the military force to get rid of Mubarak. But I stand at the time saying we are making revolution for freedom and for democracy, not to get rid of a dictator and get another one. I think the military had this revenge with me because of my anti-militarist activism and peace activism before the revolution. And when, [on] 4th February, 2011, I was joining my friends in Tahrir Square and the military wanted to prevent me from joining my friends and I insisted not to go back to my home, they arrested me. I spent a very painful night at the military intelligence, where I was beaten and sexually harassed. And they released me the second day. And I never [gave] up and got back to my activism.
After that, I wrote a small research, I named it, ‘The Army and People Were Never One Hand’. They were never one hand, even before Mubarak. We are living for six decades under military rule, and we are not buying the military propaganda saying that the army took the side of the revolution. It was published on the 7th of March. But actually, the military was preparing its plan before [I published] this article.  The military reached power on the 11th of February, 2011 and two weeks after only the head of [the] military judiciary system signed a paper allowing the military intelligence to make a case against me before even publishing this article. I was arrested on [the[ 28th of March by the military intelligence from my house. [I] was moved to six places and suffered a lot. From the beginning, lots of people in Egypt feared to support me because it [there] was a very hard propaganda from the army against me, questioning my loyalty to my country, my patriotism and raising hatred and racism against me because of my religious beliefs and because of my opinions. And, lots of other activists who defended me, they were attacked also by the military.
In August I started a hunger strike against my imprisonment asking for my release. They accused me of insulting the military. It is one of the other crimes in Egypt, which are known as opinion crimes because we have laws that restrict the freedom of expression and freedom of opinion in Egypt. After maybe a week, a Lebanese activist, his name is Nour Merheb, he felt sympathy for me and feared of my life and he committed suicide. He had his problem with the Lebanese military, but also he wanted by his death to send the world a message saying “you are ignoring Maikel Nabil and Maikel Nabil is dying in prison and you are staying silent; you shouldn’t stay silent”. So maybe I’m hero with you, and some people considering me a hero, but I think that the heroes were people who supported me and suffered for me and paid from their lives and from their safety and from their time and from their health and money to save me, and to get me out and to let everybody know what really happens in Egypt, and how the military in Egypt is trying to silence everyone who is criticizing it and everyone [who] are trying to let people inside Egypt and outside Egypt know how it really goes in Egypt and how it affects the world. Because we are living in a small world. We are living in I don’t live in borders and countries; [But] what happens in Egypt affects Europe, what happens in Asia affects Africa. We can’t isolate countries from each other and what’s happening in [the] Middle East can affect the whole world.
I’m grateful to all these organizations and individuals and activists who supported me and [placed] great pressure on the Egyptian military to free me. But freeing me isn’t the end of the trip because we are still under military rule [for] six decades. Maybe our case in Egypt is different from China or Burma or Vietnam because the Egyptian regime is considered as aligned to the West and it has its weapons and its military aids from the West and actually, it spreads the anti-Western and anti-democratic and anti-peace propaganda in Egypt and use[s] these propaganda as a way to threat and blackmail the free world to make sure that the international support for this dictatorship is remaining forever.
Last Sunday at the military court, there was an important case, which we were naming it the virginity test, because last year, on the 9th of March, the military arrested maybe 170 activists from Tahrir square, 17 of them were females and they made compulsory or obligatory virginity tests for them. And Samira Brahim, one of the courageous activists, she made a case in front of the military court, accusing the officer who made these tests. [But] Sunday the military court announced him innocent.
Until now, we have over 100 activists according to governmental statistics, which I don’t give in so much. 100 activists [were] killed during the last year; you have seen some of these scenes on the screen. And before Mubarak, there [was] nearly a thousand activists also killed. Until now, nobody was accused of killing these people, and nobody [was] really tried. While these killers are living free and walking free every day and continuing their crimes, I and my friends were prohibited from our freedom, were prohibited from our rights. And, we have still some revolution[ists] in prison still now, and even free ones, who are targeted and kidnapped and beaten in the streets every couple of days. I’m sad to say that lots of our activists left the country, asking for asylum in foreign countries. But me and other friends are refusing to do so, and [are] still committed to our cause to free our country and to liberate it from this dictatorship.
I think I am, as the majority of us are, worried about the future of my country and in relation to the future of [the] Middle East. I’m not so much concerned about the so-called democratic reform, which is happening in Egypt, because I don’t believe Egypt has passed any election through the last months and I don’t believe there will be any free election in the upcoming months. The military is completely for Islamists and completely supporting them and completely pushing them to power with completely unfree and unjust election[s]. And lots of major civilian activists can’t run even in the presidential election like Ayman Nour, who is the former presidential candidate. He [became] the second  president candidate [in 2005] and now he can’t run in election for presidency while Islamic terrorists, who were in prisons for decades for terrorism, they are free now and their cases are dropped and they are having all the aids and all the funds they need to reach power without being questioned for anything. So what we are having in Egypt is a military institution, which means to remain in power and [is] violating the human rights of Egyptians everyday, and [is] risking the peace in [the] Middle East and [s] risking international peace for just remaining in power, and using Islamists to spread the world and to make sure of continuity of the Western support to this dictatorship.
But I’m still optimistic because of what I see daily in [the] streets. I see how revolutions develop their ideas, how they don’t fall [to] the military propaganda and can manage and know what is right and what’s wrong. And I like how they fight for their aims with moral and with [an] idealist manner. Every day we gain more supporters. We can have marches and demonstrations with hundreds of thousands and maybe millions. Everyday, there are newcomers. Everyday, our ideas and our minds are developing for the better, which makes me  optimistic that in the end we will win and there will be a democracy again in Egypt, as we had before and in the first half of the 20th century, before the coup of 1952.
But I know that we have to pay more sacrifices and I know that even [though] we lost lots of friends during the last month, we have to lose more. We are risking our safety, risking our [lives], risking our bodies for our causes. But speaking by myself and for others, we are owing to it, and we are completing our mission to free our country from this dictatorship. And I think we, as a free world and one world, we have to do two things. The first is to publicize all the violations, which [are] happening in Egypt and in any other dictatorships, Because [the] military arrested me to silence me, [we’re] going to send them the message that we can’t silence [the] human right[s] voice. And if you arrest someone, we will continue to speak for him and with him and say what he [had] intended and we were supposed to say. We have to confront every dictatorship with their crimes and oppose them and make them stop these crimes against humanity and against human beings. The other thing which we need to do is not to compromise our ideals. We shouldn’t be blackmailed by a dictatorship. We shouldn’t let a dictatorship blackmail the free world, threatening them [with] democracy, saying that democracy can bring Islamists or any other thing. We shouldn’t question and we shouldn’t compromise any human rights; we shouldn’t compromise with our ideal[s] supporting our aims, believing that no democratic country would choose war. no democratic country would choose to kill its free citizens for nothing, or for just a citizen. We should know that any democratic country would seek development and seek progress. And there is no progress, and there is no development in a country having war. That was my message to the world. Thanks for hearing me and thanks for being with you today, which I missed for months. Thank you.