The Nag Hammadi story: arresting citizenship
Last Friday, January 15, was “depressingly” a unique one for Egyptian blogospheres and civil society. Then again, who says that the whole month of January and probably the whole year is not!
At the end of the first week of January, Egyptian Christians were celebrating Christmas in Catholic churches all over Egypt as usual. Hammam, a bloodthirsty murderer, who apparently was paid by fanatics, was waiting at the doors of the Naga’a Hammadi Archbishopric with a hidden gun, which he started using in cold blood as soon as people came out of the Archbishopric after finishing their celebration. He killed six people before he escaped.
Reactions to the horrible incident varied greatly between state representatives, opposition leaders, civil society organizations, bloggers and religious scholars. Yet, every one agreed on the importance of emphasizing citizenship.
Over the following week, representatives of reputable religious institutions such as the Sheikh of Al-Azhar and Minister of Endowment; TV and Cinema celebrities; respectable public figures, and government officials traveled to Naga’a Hammadi to console the families of the victims and help in calming down the anger of the Coptic community there. Young, bloggers, human rights and political activists also wanted to do something.
Mostafa al-Naggar, a dentist, blogger and dedicated human rights activist took the initiative of inviting fellow bloggers and activists to make a trip to Naga’a Hammadi on the following Friday, January 15. He contacted the mayor of the city and some officials at the Archbishopric and obtained permission. They were very responsive and cooperative. They organized meetings and a reception for the activists with the families of victims who were ready to receive them.
In a private thread on Facebook, the activists agreed on everything, starting from booking tickets on a Thursday night train proceeding to the schedule of their trip, the cost of their lunch, even the style of their dress. All involved were excited that they would have an opportunity to show solidarity with their fellow brothers and sisters in Naga’a Hammadi. The group, which comprised of approximately 20 Egyptian youths from different religious backgrounds and political affiliations including Wael Abbass, Basem Fathi, Esraa Abdel Fattah, and Ismael El-Iskandrany along with a French female activist, came together with one purpose in mind; to emphasize religious freedom and citizenship rights in a practical on-the-ground action. I was to be among the group, but unfortunately – or maybe luckily, I had to apologize on Wednesday for personal reasons and excuse myself from the journey!
On Friday morning at 8 am, I first opened my eyes to an SMS from Naggar saying, “We’re now arrested in Naga’a Hammadi!” I tried to call him but this was in vain. His mobile was turned off. According to the private thread for organizing the trip on Facebook, I expected that they were picked up once they arrived. I sent a group SMS to everyone I knew, and posted the news on Twitter and Facebook to spread the word in an attempt to get them some help. One hour later, I called the governor, but it seemed that he was not even aware of the issue. “I will check it out and reply back to you,” he said. As expected, I did not hear him at all after that.
The reaction of civil society was great. Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Elgabha Party, el-Ghad Party, among others, sent their lawyers to support the arrested activists. Osama Alghazaly Harb, head of el-Gabha Party, and George Ishak, from Kefaya Movement traveled to Naga’a Hammadi and contacted top officials there to pressure the security forces to release the activists.
Later on, we learned that the activists were put in two police vehicles, boys and girls separately, after forcibly handing in their ID Cards and mobile phones to police officers. They were first taken to the Naga’a Hamadi Police Station then; they were taken to the Security Directorate of Qena. There, the activists spent their whole day.
A colleague and blogger, Mohamed Atef, who lives in Upper Egypt – close to the arrested activists –, called the head of security in Qena, who threatened him “If you do not shut up, I will let you go with them!” Two hours later, Mohamed Atef was arrested at Sohag Train Station! They released him a few hours later, though.
The security told the lawyers that they would release the activists after Friday Prayer, around 1:00 pm. Then, they said the activists would be released at 6:00pm to catch the 7:00 pm train returning to Cairo. Late at night, around 10:30 pm, the lawyers knew that the activists were sent to the Prosecutor’s Office to interrogate them about claims of “rioting and illegal assembly!” In all reality, they did not even have a chance to get into the city, because they were arrested as soon as they stepped off the train!
The interrogations continued into the next morning. Then, at around 3:20 pm on Saturday, I received a phone call from Naggar saying that they were released. “They released all of us. They gave us our mobile phones and we are waiting to know how we will be transported to Cairo.” Naggar, who sounded very exhausted and tired, told me over the phone. “We have not slept in two days. Some of the girls were taken to hospital yesterday. But thank God, we’re all fine now,” he added.
No one can explain this contradiction in the actions of security forces in Naga’a Hammadi. They have already allowed state figures and officials to visit the city. Why they should worry about a dozen young Egyptian activists, who believe in the daily claims of equality and citizenship by the government, and decided to show solidarity to their homeland partners! Security forces should have accompanied them during their trip to facilitate it for them and ensure their security rather than detain and keep them in custody without food or blankets for more than 34 hours!