Joined by Love, Separated by Egypt's Prison Walls

Clockwise: Sanaa (left) and Mona; Alaa Abd El Fattah with his son Kahled and wife Manal Hassan, Alaa and Sanaa, and Sanaa and Mona .. On pain, love and hope. Photo credit: Mona Seif (Facebook)

Clockwise: Sanaa Seif (left) and Mona Seif; Alaa Abd El Fattah with his son Khaled and Mona; Alaa and Sanaa; and Sanaa and Mona. Photo credit: Mona Seif via Facebook

This post was originally written in Arabic by Mona Seif. Her brother Alaa Abd El Fattah is in prison, serving a 15-year sentence for taking part in a demonstration, and her sister Sanaa Seif is also in prison facing trial for taking part in a march against a controversial Egyptian law that prohibits demonstrations. A translation of her post, in which she writes about pain, love and hope, appears below.

As a child, death was the biggest fear I had.

I had a lot of nightmares. The idea of my death would chase me and let me cry my eyes out while I was in bed alone. My mother told me that my aunt was like this as a child. My mother never understood this fear in me or in my aunt but was always the one who helped us deal with it. When I spoke to my aunt about it, she told me that her fear of her own death changed after giving birth to her children. I did not understand her words until I got to understand my feelings towards Sanaa – my youngest sister who is taller than me and who is the most beautiful person in my life.

When my mother was pregnant with Sanaa, she asked me whether I wanted a sister or a brother. It was a difficult decision for an eight-year-old to make, especially one who was torn between the idea of having a sister in order to have a bunker bed and sleep on the top level, or having a younger brother who would taunt her older brother. After a long period of confusion, I decided I wanted Sanaa and not Yousif, or rather I wanted the bunker bed, and would look for new ways to taunt Alaa.

I remember the day she was born.

Our relative Azza woke Alaa and me up to prepare us to go to school. We knew that mother had gone to the hospital at midnight to give birth. We went to school in a trance; we entered the courtyard jumping; and Alaa would shout at everyone he encountered: “My sister has arrived.”

After school, we took the bus, and raced home as soon as it stopped to see who would arrive first. We entered the room on my mother and found her smiling calmly while holding a small creature. We bent to take a closer look at Sanaa. She responded with a weak “Aaaaaa.” Alaa laughed and said: “Poor thing! She can't even yell” so Sanaa shrieked in a manner which made us take a step back, before breaking down with laughter.

Sanaa is like this. You gives you that impression that she is a biscuit, something small who is unable to manage. Then suddenly, she surprises you by doing something which includes all the things you were never able to do. I remember the day we went to the investigation judge after the cabinet incident for him to take our statement after our arrest and harassment. For those who knew us, I was the one who remembered statements, information and details, and who would concentrate on everything, while Sanaa was the one who lived in another world of her imagination and who would even forget names and details and easily get lost. On that day, she surprised me again. I started speaking about what happened – feelings, names and descriptions of the people who were with us. I then released that all this was irrelevant and that I had to present descriptions which would help find out who those who had harassed us were. I automatically use one of the survival tricks living with harassment on the streets on a daily basis brings – I try to blur out the faces and features of all those people I am afraid of and those who endanger me.

Sanaa, however, my sister who considered all the bridges in Cairo as Tharwat Bridge (the only bridge whose name she knew), sat down in front of the investigator and gave a detailed description of those who had attacked us as well as those who were arrested with us. She was able to describe their height, the colour of their skin and the number of stars and badges on their shoulder. And she identified three of the officers who attacked us and pinpointed them from newspapers of the day's coverage.

I remember how I then joked with her: “Who's this? Bring back my sister Sanaa!” I also remember how on that day I discovered how important Sanaa was during life-changing moments, how she was different, and how her ability to focus and take decisions surpassed that of anyone I knew.

For a few days now, I have been suppressing this pain inside me, which I cannot deal with. This pain is related to how all the spells an older sister would cast to protect her younger sister did not work. It is a pain regarding the three minutes I stole to meet her at the police station, where we were separated by a door and barbed wire, where I was not able to hug her, and where all our conversation was conducted in a loud voice and fast, in a bid to reassure her and those arrested with her. The way she probably saw it was that it was a lot of talk, full of anxiety, which contained many demands and instructions.

Nowadays, life has become so harsh on us, one is not able to grasp the pain, express his sadness, or speak about his love for his jailed siblings. Today when I visited Sanaa, all it took to suck out all the pain was a small letter from her, and a few words words. Again she surprised me about how, despite the distance and the prison walls, only she was able to understand my pain.

Last December, I wrote, after visiting Alaa in prison:

“Your prisons don't scare us.
If your injustice hurt, the day will come when we will remember all the lovely things in the dream which is making us insist on defeating your nightmare.
And we will remember the laughter of all those we were separated from.
We have a secret weapon. We have Sanaa.
Truly, with all your tanks, and prisons, and armoured vehicles, and morgues … we are stronger than you.”

While it is true that they have prisons, armoured vehicles, bullets, court houses and police stations, and are able to separate us from each other like having Alaa in Tora prison and Sanaa at the Qanater prison, where we get Alaa's prison visit permit from Zenhum court, and Sanaa's visit permit from Al Abbasiya court, we still have a secret weapon – Sanaa, and the overflowing capacity to love which trespasses the walls of all the prisons


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