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Maikel Nabil Sanad Headshot

Though I Keep Getting Detained, I'll Never Stop Being an Activist

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Scott Olson via Getty Images
Scott Olson via Getty Images

I was sitting on a bench inside the military court that day, accompanied by a military intelligence agent, waiting for my military judge to arrive in the courtroom. It was a spring day, in April 2011, just few months after the revolution started. It was the fifth time I was detained in Egypt because of my activism.

The agent feigned sympathy for my situation and asked me what had gotten me into all this trouble. He asked me if my parents or some family members were involved in politics and had gotten me involved. I told him that I was dragged into it against my own will. I originally wanted to be an author, writing only novels and short stories. But every time I have a negative experience, I write about it. So, I wrote about my feelings as a person who belongs to a persecuted minority in Egypt: Coptic Christians.

I wrote about the unjust situations in my university. I even wrote about the bad treatment I received from my parents at home. And, every time I write about injustice, those in power use their authority to punish me, giving me more sad stories to write. It was an endless cycle: injustice leads to me writing about it, which leads to authority punishment and me writing about the new punishment and so on! ... A few days after, I was sentenced to three years in prison, because I dared to write about the crimes committed by the military during revolution (including torturing me Feb 4, 2011).

Several months later, in October 2011, after I had spent two months on Hunger strike and had boycotted my retrial in the military court, a military regime judge sent me into a mental hospital to be evaluated. In front of a committee of three psychology experts, I found myself being asked the same question again: "What is activism and why did you became an activist?" I explained to them that the term "activism" comes from the word "activity," and that whoever does a certain activity on regular basis is an activist. So, if you do political activity on regular basis, then you are a political activist. And if you do Human Rights activities on regular basis, then you are a Human Rights activist. I told them that blogging was the only tool I had to speak out about injustice. It was my only way to cry out, and maybe change things!

After I was released from prison in January 2012, included in a general pardon, I started to hear those questions again: "what made you who you are? Why were you persistent and didn't stop speaking even after you were detained five times and were exiled?" Several groups tried to study me and analyze how an activist is made, and why different people react differently to the same unjust situation. I was never able to give a convincing answer. I always thought it's a moral choice: one person sees injustice and tries to fight it, yet another chooses to close his eyes and go on with his life.

That was how I saw things until a few weeks ago, when I joined a big protest in Berlin in solidarity with refugees. I noticed that most of the protesters have another cause of their own; either being LGBT, or belonging to an ethnic minority, or having an immigrant background, or belonging to a marginalized political group or to a political party which was never in power. As far as I could see, no one was there from any of German four major political parties, which hold power in Germany. Somehow I realized that people become ready to invest time, effort and money to help others only when they are able to feel others. To logically understand their predicament is one thing, but to truly feel it is something else. These activists felt connected with refugees by shared injustice. Through protesting for cause of others, they were -- in a way -- protesting against the injustice they faced themselves.

This allowed me to understand something more about myself. Maybe I defended minorities, because I am a member of a minority and knows how it feels to be treated as a second class citizen. Maybe I defend children's rights because I know how an abused child feels. Maybe I defend political prisoners because I was one, and I met, several times, my mother's uncle who was one as well. Maybe I defend LGBT rights, because I, myself, had to struggle for sexual freedom in the conservative, religious social environment in Egypt. Maybe I'm an Intactivist (activist against circumcision) because I know how it feels to have some part taken from my body without my consent.

It isn't that I can understand the situations of people facing injustice from afar, I can feel their pain, because it's my pain as well.

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