The wife of Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who is currently held in Tora prison in Cairo, recounts how he was taken from their home, when security officers without a warrant broke down the door to their apartment, beat him, slapped her, and then took him away.
The original report by Manal is in Arabic. An English translation was provided by Ahdaf Soueif on her facebook page, who kindly gave permisson to reproduce the translation here for readers who do not own a facebook account and would not be able to access it otherwise.
Manal's Account of Alaa's Violent Arrest from their Home
Arabic on Manal's FB page.
English translation by Ahdaf Soueif:
The Raid and theArrest
28 November is Safi’s birthday. The girls have organized a nice outing, but now that Alaa has decided to hand himself in to the Prosecutor's Office on Saturday we don’t have a lot of time left together, especially as I’m sure they’re going to lock him up.
After they broke up the protest (against the provision for the military trial of civilians in the draft constitution on the 26th November) and questioned the people they detained we could smell what was coming. The lawyers told us that every person they questioned was asked about their relationship with Alaa. And the thing is that Alaa was standing outside the police station where the questioning was happening for more than 8 hours. The lawyers said to the investigator if you want to ask Alaa about anything we can ask him to come in, but the investigator said something along the lines of “he can come and see us if he wants”.
The next day we hear the news about the arrest warrant and the scene is drawn.
Why was there an arrest warrant?
Why not start with “come in for questioning”, and if he doesn’t come then order the arrest? Especially since everyone knows that when the Military Prosecutor asked Alaa to come in for questioning he came back from abroad to present himself – even though he intended to refuse to co-operate with the exceptional military judicial system. And the whole process was repeated in the days of the Morsi presidency, and Alaa went and presented himself - even though he refused to be investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office because of its lack of neutrality.
But no, this time the Ministry of the Interior wanted to put on a show: “The Arrest of the Fugitive Criminal, Alaa Abd El Fattah”.
That night, I thought about just going out for a couple of hours and coming back quickly. That would be OK surely, especially since Alaa is very busy. But it feels like I’ve caught Khaled’s cold; every bit of me aches and I feel shivery, and on top of that I’m anxious and miserable. I actually find that I can’t get out of bed. In the afternoon I try to put Khaled down for a nap but he rebels and after an hour I’ve had enough so I get Alaa to take over and go to sleep.
I woke up, and slept again and woke up and slept again and woke up and started to get myself together to get out of bed. Alaa came in and I was just about to ask him to be a sweetie and make me a tea when the door of the flat burst open (you can see it from our bed) and a swarm of people were in our room; some in civilian clothes and some in flak jackets and some in masks, their machine guns aimed at our faces as I sat on the edge of the bed in my pyjamas.
They were yelling:
“Stay where you are –“
“Lie on your belly!”
And all I could think of was Khaled, “My son my son - let me see my son ...”
“Stay where you are!”
I saw a man bringing handcuffs and I couldn’t see Alaa. Between him and me there were ten people or more (I think it was more than 20 people in this raid) and it seemed they’d got him face down on the floor.
“My son my son .. ”
A man in a civilian suit - who looked like he was running the show - gestured to let me go see Khaled. As I got up I saw several of them had their mobiles out and were taking pictures.
I went to Khaled and found him asleep in his room on the big bed and I thanked God. I closed the door and tried to collect myself. In the corridor a man in civilian clothes was coming out of the kitchen carrying a laptop.
I went into the hall and I could hear someone calling out “Come here, Mrs, and get him some clothes”. From the corner of my eye I can see the man who took the laptop now taking Alaa’s mobile that was lying on the sofa. I can hear them talking and understand that Alaa is getting the clothes for himself and someone says “Don’t bother, Mrs”, and the man with the laptop and the mobile goes into the room. I’m in the hall and I can’t see what’s happening in the room because of the number of people blocking the doorway.
I hear Alaa say to them “What are you doing? These are my wife’s things. Do you have a warrant? It’s done; you’ve arrested me. Now, do you have a search warrant? I want to see the warrant”. I understand they’re taking my laptop and mobile that I’d left on the bedside table when I went to bed.
I started demanding the warrant too: “Do you have a warrant from the Prosecutor? Excuse me, I’d like to see the warrant - ”
It was as if the word “warrant” was the filthiest name you could call their mothers. They got angry. I heard them say to Alaa “if you carry on asking for the warrant you’ll go out like this.” 3 or 4 men crowded around me, dragged me by the hair and pushed me onto the sofa and started slapping me. One held me down by the hair, the other held me by my right arm. I think I insulted one – a polite insult of course like "what do you think you’re doing you animal" – and of course they carried on beating me and calling me a “whore” and “the daughter of a whore." In the background I saw Alaa being pushed from the room to the hall to outside the flat in the house clothes that he was wearing.
And suddenly it was as if I was outside the scene and it turned into a surrealist spectacle from which I remember shots like in a comic strip: close-up on an unshaved face and yellow teeth while he’s hitting me and insulting me. Or the boss in the suit hitting me and calling me names and all I can think of is how much he acts like Tohamy Bey in the ad series on Melody channel, “Aflam Masri Omm el-Agnabi” ("Egyptian Drama Beats Western Drama").
Anyone who’s worried about me: please don’t be. I didn’t feel violated or broken. No. I was strong. You know, my worst nightmare is being abused and trying to scream but my voice does’t come out – and that didn’t happen. Actually, for a moment, I pitied them: the Ministry and the officers and their thugs and Sisi and SCAF. I felt they were so tiny – I’m not sure how to describe this, but I kind of thought “wow - Alaa’s really driving you this mad? You need to put together this whole exhibition to show your strength and feel that you’ve got power - and now? Now you think you’re really something?"
I’m not coming on like some hero with a whole “they won’t break us” rhetoric. No. This was really how I felt, and at that moment I decided to stop resisting and trying to escape the blows: let the scene come to an end so we can get on with what we need to do.
They left and I felt a massive surge of anger. I went onto the balcony to see where they were taking Alaa and was stunned by the rest of the spectacle: our house is on the corner of 2 streets and it turned out there was another group – other than the twenty who broke into our house – most of them masked, positioned at the intersection of the 2 narrow streets and aiming their guns at all the windows and balconies, yelling “Get inside! Close your window!”
What drove me nuts most was that they took the mobiles. How can all this happen and I can’t tell anyone? (My landline doesn’t work). The anger started to turn into confusion and helplessness. I can’t take control and decide on the next step. I want to go down to the neighbours. Can I leave Khaled alone? Where are my slippers? Where are the keys?
Luckily, my neighbours came to the rescue. They came up and I told them what happened quickly: they hit me ya Tante .. they took the mobiles .. Khaled’s fine .. I need a phone.
My neighbor gives me her mobile. Who should I call? All the names vanished from my head. I should call Alaa’s mother, Tante Laila. She doesn’t reply. Who else? His father. I don’t know the number by heart. Mona? I’m not sure of the number. I try anyway but it doesn’t answer. I call Tante Laila again and she answers and she was on her way to us anyway. I told her. She said “I’m getting off the microbus; seconds and I’ll be with you”. All this happened in about ten minutes. I think they came at about 9.30 and by twenty to ten they were gone.
Thank God that Khaled was asleep. Thank God I didn’t go out. If I’d gone out and left Khaled with Alaa, what would have happened?
The rest of the night is foggy. I had no sense of time. I was lost and trying to hold onto details and things to do so I could feel I was in control.
Family and friends and lawyers came straight away – or maybe after a while.
Khaled woke up and of course was infected with the tension and anxiety. He keeps coming to find me and throwing himself at me .. crying. I try to get someone from the family to take care of him so I can get on with what I’m doing. He won’t calm down. Where’s the pacifier? I go to look for it in our room and notice for the first time the bloodstains on the floor. In the spot where they had Alaa in cuffs.
If they hit me because I asked for the warrant, and injured Alaa after they handcuffed him, what will they do to him when they’ve got him locked up?
Locked up where?
This was a question we couldn’t answer. Phone calls didn’t come up with anything (everyone who has a connection with the “democratic” government or relationships with the Ministry of the Interior didn’t get their calls answered), nor did our tour of the police stations and the security directorates and the central security camps.The visitors started to leave. Khaled went to sleep. Only some of the family remained. I start to prepare the prison suitcase and find inside it most of the things we packed the day Alaa went to hand himself in to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Public Prosecutor – also in a fabricated case not much different from this one.
At last, in the morning, I slept. And woke up an hour and a half later to a phone call from my mother-in-law: “Alaa will be questioned in the Cairo Security Directorate and the lawyers are on their way to him”.
The Independence of the Prosecutor’s Office
Firstly, why does the Prosecution agree to question an accused person in the security directorate? Why? Of course some people will ask: and what’s the problem? I’ll tell you what the problems are.
Three lawyers attended Alaa’s questioning; the others were refused permission (1). We sat, the family and lawyers in some office in the Directorate and we had to endure the oiliness of the officers and their analysis of the political situation (2). Oiliness must be a condition of acceptance in the force.
I took out my tablet and got engrossed in anything so I wouldn’t be part of the conversation. A bottle of water in my bag meant I wouldn’t have to accept any offers of drinks.
So it turns out the oily cuties at the desk have been taking photos of us with their mobiles and next day an item appears on the al-Ahram portal: “Alaa Seif’s family enjoy the hospitality of the Ministry of the Interior in consideration of the human aspect (of the case)”, as though they'd taken us out on a picnic on Orphan’s Day (3). Anyway, we will be suing them for taking our photos without permission. If the questioning had been in a prosecutor’s office, this wouldn’t have happened. It would be good if we can demand compensation from the Public Prosecutor too, maybe they’ll learn a lesson.
The lawyers send word that the questioning is over and that now Alaa is being questioned as a plaintiff. Sometimes the lawyers drive me mad too: could you tell us if he was tortured? Could this be the first piece of information the lawyers pass on to the families?
After the questioning they allowed Mona and me to go up and see Alaa, and they promised that they’d let Tante Laila and Sanaa see him too – but of course they didn’t (4).
We saw him for 10 minutes, I just had time to find out he was OK and to tell him Khaled and I were fine. The last thing he saw before they took him was the police beating his wife. The last thing I knew of him was that he was injured while he was still at home.
I learned that he’d been hit on the head, probably with the butt of a gun, and I learned that he’d slept on the floor for 12 hours. For 6 hours his hands were cuffed behind his back and when they decided to show mercy they cuffed them in front of him. His left eye was very red and had something like a blood clot – probably because of the dirty cloth they blindfolded him with so tightly. He told me that Khaled had fallen asleep in his arms before they came. Good that they had some special time together before all this happened.
The 10 minutes were over and Alaa was taken away.
We started to leave but they said Alaa had to leave first and then we could go. We sat and chatted with the district prosecutor and made an appointment to go back and file a report on my being assaulted. I saw the list of confiscated items: two laptops and a mobile. It seems that the Ministry of the Interior isn’t going to mention the second mobile (the lawyers confirmed later that Alaa’s mobile never appeared on the list). I asked for the laptops and mobile back and the prosecutor promised they’d return them after we put this in my report – and he confirmed that the Ministry of the interior did not have a search warrant.
“So, what’s the decision?”
“The decision isn’t here yet.” He stares at the telephone.
It’s become so normal; he’ll reach his decision after he gets the phone call. They used to try and pretend; they’d make us leave the room as though the prosecutor was considering the case. Now, it’s totally normal and shameless: we’re waiting for the phone call.
We sat for over an hour waiting for the phone call, marooned upstairs, us and the prosecutor and his assistants, unable to move from the 6th floor. Well, when Your Honour agrees to leave the Prosecutor’s Office and go conduct your questioning in the Security Directorate you get locked up like any prisoner. I think this was also his punishment for allowing us to see Alaa for 10 minutes (5).
The funny thing, though, is that one of the lawyers got a phone call from a journalist in al-Youm al-Sabe3 (The Seventh Day) informing him that Alaa was going to be remanded for 4 days – before even the prosecutor had got his phone call.
So what’s the difference between the prosecutor and the clerk who takes down the transcript except that maybe his spelling’s better? He asks some predictable questions and corrects the clerk’s spelling. Seriously, nothing more.
Well, tell us where Alaa will be taken? The answer: that’s up to the Ministry of the Interior.
We get information he’ll be taken to Tora Prison. But yesterday we got so many “definite” bits of information that we don’t believe anything any more. We spend another night unsure of where he is, until next day Sanaa manages to get a “tableyya” in to him (food that is handed to the prison administration without the family seeing the prisoner) in Tora Prison.
My questioning the next day isn’t that different: I tell the story of what happened and what they did to me, and I tell them how I was beaten because I asked to see the prosecutor’s warrant. No reaction. Well, Your Honour, I just don’t understand how you can look me in the eye. The Ministry of the Interior doesn’t own us; it owns you and your institution.
We asked about getting the laptops back. They said they’ve gone to the inspection department in the Ministry. The lawyers started to argue that any evidence – if found – would not be admissible in court because it was obtained without a warrant, and that the Ministry of the Interior took the equipment only to find pictures they could use to smear us, or confidential material related to our work or financial information. The prosecutor started to say it’s only your story that the laptops were taken from the house but the officer who recorded the confiscation says he arrested Alaa at a checkpoint and so it’s his right to confiscate the objects without a warrant.
The lawyers – who’d read the arrest and the confiscation reports - cut right through this. How have you sold yourselves so fully to the Ministry of the Interior? How can you lie so openly to shield them?
After a long argument with the prosecutor and the DA, and after we’d recorded in the report that we hold the Ministry of the Interior responsible for any smear campaigns, or any hacking of websites that we’d developed, or any publicizing of the confidential affairs of any of our clients – they gave us the reason for the inspection of our illegally confiscated machines: “the Ministry of the Interior wants this.” This is, of course, not just reason enough, it’s the motto of our times.
We have filed an emergency case to get back our equipment.