With great pride, I like to say Alaa is my friend because he is a great person. Why and how is Alaa my friend. Well really I only met Alaa once when we spent a week together in a park outside Bangalore in 2009. We were there together with Alaa’s wife, Manal and many others as facilitators and participants of the first InfoActive Camp organized by Tactical Tech. We came from across the globe: Bolivia, India, Nigeria, Kenya, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Philippines, Vietnam, Pacific Islands, across Europe and the US and of course Egypt. Jake Applebaum was also present and I remember we all listened to him intently as he explained how insecure our online lives were and of course he was right. Looking back the week was a historic one. I was to go on in 2010 to edit “SMS Uprising: Mobile Phone Activism in Africa” which is now dated but at the time was groundbreaking. What none of us knew was that within 2 years Tunisia and Egypt would turn the world round to the point where we seriously began to believe, that creating a different world was possible. 2011 saw uprisings of varying lengths take place across the continent and for some it was a moment of possibility and what a moment!
I remember one particular session at the Camp, on a roof with Alaa and Manal explaining how they had been organizing with others in Egypt over the past few years. They explained how they both came from families deeply rooted in human rights and activism. His late father Ahmed Seif El-Islam Hamad, was a human rights lawyer and himself was imprisoned for five years. His mother Laila Soueif and sisters, Mona Seif and Sanaa Seif who is now in her 175th day in prison and his wife Manal Bahey El-Din are all political activists who have dedicated their lives to struggle for justice and a world where we could live in harmony rather than in competition — a world of great imagination.
The camp was the last time I saw Alaa but we kept in touch briefly by email but mostly following each other on Twitter. From time to time we would have brief Twitter exchanges, retweets and that was the extent of our communication. But the respect has always been there on both sides and always acknowledged when it needed to be.
When the Egyptian revolution broke to the world, those of us who attended Alaa’s sessions at the InfoActive camp remembered his words and knew that for some it had been in the planning stage for many years. At the time Alaa and Manal were living in Pretoria, South Africa but immediately returned to Cairo to join with their family, friends and comrades in the hope of a new Egypt and beyond.
Alaa has been in prison at various times since 2006. I remember there was a campaign by bloggers at the time to Free Alaa using a “Google Bomb” where we would write blog posts repeating the keyword Egypt which linked to a Free Alaa page. He was also in prison when his son, Khalid was born and recently when his later father passed away. Alaa is not alone in this. His wife, Manal has been physically beaten by the Egyptian security and she has had to bear the pain of his harassment, imprisonment and now hunger strike not knowing how this will end. His mother and sister Mona Seif have themselves been on hunger strike in support of other Egyptian activists and have been untiring in their vigil for all those held in prison.
As I write this Alaa is now in his 81st day on hunger strike and has been transferred to hospital. He and his sister, Sanaa are not the only people in prison in Egypt for protesting which is an unjust law and hundreds of Egyptians have been sentenced to death all of which speaks to the reality that Egypt is a militarized dictatorship and one that continues to be supplied with military aid by the US and supported by France and all the other so-called western democracies that are presently in an uproar over freedom of speech which as we know is selectively applied and certainly not to Egyptian human rights activists.
In 2006 we Google Bombed for his release, it’s 2015 and I ask everyone to tweet and retweet #FreeAlaa and #FreeAllEgyptianActivists.