Date: Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Time: 11:00 am
Location: The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
I sat in the front row with my camera ready and waited for the conference to begin.
"How would you feel if you were in his shoes?" – That was the question that haunted me until they finally came into the room.
Rawda Ahmed, Kareem Amer's lawyer, walked in first followed by Kareem Amer and Gamal Eid, the Director of the ANHRI.
I positioned my camera and took a few pictures of the three of them and I noticed that Kareem was avoiding cameras and eye contact; he seemed to gaze into a blank spot in the corner of the room. My heart went out to him. There he was, sitting in a room full of strangers – with the exception of his two lawyers – not knowing what to expect. They all knew him! They have all heard of him! He knows none of them! I watched him shyly scan the faces before him; he saw the media piranhas who just wanted "a piece of him", the curious mob, the sympathetic faces, the inquisitive eyes, and the blank faces.
Gamal Eid started the conference by introducing Kareem and Rawda then handed over the microphone to Kareem who hid behind an expressionless face and a monotone. The moment Kareem started talking, I drew him into my energy field. I dropped my defenses, bared my soul, locked eyes with him, and detached the two of us from the crowd. For the first ten or fifteen minutes – when Kareem narrated the details of his story – I did not flash my camera at him, did not record, and did not move. I just looked him in the eye and reassured him with a nod and a little smile every now and then.
He gave an account of how he was suspended then dismissed from Al Azhar University because of the thoughts he shared on his blog, how Al Azhar reported him to the Attorney General, how they were biased against him from the beginning because "he was the different other", how his lawyers did their best, how ridiculous his charges were, how he was assaulted by officers even before he was found guilty, how he was detained in a solitary cell like those on a death row, how he was sentenced to four years for blogging his opinions, how he was denied visitation rights for most of his prison-time, how he was assaulted over and over in prison, how he lost a tooth, how he almost lost faith in himself, how the police officers tried to coerce him into changing his opinions and beliefs, and finally how his release was delayed.
After he finished narrating that part of his story, he talked about his unlawful detention for 11 days after his official release date and how he was assaulted, insulted, and humiliated by the two officers who illegally kept him in custody (video in Arabic). This was when I let go of his eyes and began recording. He always came back for strength and comfort and I wished I had more to offer him.
In the second video, Rawda gives an account of Kareem's trial from a legal perspective highlighting all the violations and loopholes that damaged his case. She clearly accused the system of being biased – Kareem is not a criminal, he is a blogger who happens to have different beliefs. She also mentioned two very important points: first the judge refused Kareem's bail because if he let him out for one day "a big black car with black windows will pick him up, take him away, and we will never see him again", second that the judge swore that Kareem will not spend one day less than his four years in prison no matter how many times they appealed his case!
In the third video, Gamal Eid talked about the ignorant mob – those who did not read Kareem's blog yet judged him based on hearsay, the biased system, Al Azhar University that is moving steadily backwards towards the dark ages, Kareem's brutal four-years sentence, the violations of human rights, the role of ANHRI in defending him, the support of the Egyptian blogosphere, the support of certain human rights organizations, and how other organizations took advantage of Kareem's case to gather donations in his name without his approval or knowledge.
In his responses, Kareem stated that:
- He does not regret what he did and he would do it all over again.
- He will continue writing and defending his beliefs whether they were the same beliefs that got him in prison or not.
- He will be more careful in the future and will find a balance between expressing his opinion and staying safe.
- He learnt from his experience with the Attorney General and next time he will not be as transparent and as honest – they did not have anything against him other than his own confession!
- He is staying with his family in Alexandria; regardless of their inherent differences, he is still their son! The media blew his father's statements out of proportion and just spread lies.
- He will continue his studies but he will never go back to Al Azhar even if they wanted him back.
- He grew up in a strict fundamentalist Muslim family where the only books he was allowed to read were Islamic books. He was shoved into Al Azhar educational system – prison for life, he called it – and once a child is in that system there is no other way out.
- He began reading literature and classics followed by Dr. Nawal El Saadawi's books and his first blog posts were mainly in defense of women, women's rights, and violence against women in Islam.
- His other posts criticized Al Azhar teachings and how it breeds intolerance and terrorists!
- He also criticized the regime and sectarian conflicts in the name of Islam (This was the post that they used to build his charges upon)
- He was charged with contempt of Islam and instigation – and no one knows what's that supposed to mean.
To every "free" Egyptian blogger out there:
Whether you adopt Kareem's beliefs or not, I want you to know that you are free because Kareem was imprisoned!
You can blog about politics, the regime, the elections, the judges, corruption, women's rights, feminism, sectarian conflicts, demonstrations, and poor labor conditions because Kareem Amer paid four years of his life on behalf of you!
Kareem Amer was the system's scapegoat but his imprisonment opened the door for hundreds of bloggers who are now more vicious and more ferocious in their posts than he ever was.
You might not agree with him, but you owe him a lot of respect and gratitude! Please share his story and spread the videos of his first press conference – let the world know the price of freedom of speech!
To Kareem Amer:
I am worried about you!
I read the comments on articles that covered your press conference and I realized that you will always be a prisoner in Egypt!
The angry fanatic intolerant bigoted ignorant mob is after you! They are bloodthirsty hounds cheering for your head – please run! Leave Egypt!
I am sure that when you were reading Dr. Nawal El Saadawi's books, it never crossed your mind that you were carving your fate!
You will have to live in exile just as long as she did!
You will have to bear the ignorance of the masses the way she did!
You might come back one day but until then, keep writing!
Do not let them silence your voice!