Mahienour el-Masry writes from prison
Letter from prison by Mahienour el-Masry
I don’t know much about what has happened outside since my prison sentence was confirmed, but I imagine that just as when someone else in our circles was jailed, cyberspace is filling up with slogans demanding “freedom for so-and-so” or “the bravest are in jail” and so on.
But ever since I entered Damanhour Women’s Prison and joined the other inmates in ‘Cell Block 1’, the section of the prison for those convicted of general financial crimes, I can only think of one thing: “let’s tear down this class system”.
The inmates in this block are mostly in jail for failure to keep up payments on loans. There is the mother who borrowed to set a recently-married daughter up in a new home, the wife who needed money for a sick husband, and the woman who took out a 2000 LE loan and found herself fined 3,000,000 LE.
The cell block is a microcosm of society. The rich get what they need, while the poor have to sell their labour power even in jail. The prisoners discuss what is happening in the country. I found women supporting al-Sisi because they believed that if elected he would issue a general pardon for those convicted in fraud cases. There were those who wanted al-Sisi because he would smash terrorist demonstrations with an iron fist, despite their sympathy for me and their feeling that I am probably wrongly imprisoned.
There is the one who backs Hamdeen Sabahi because he comes from her own brave part of the world, and she sees that he has promised to free the prisoners. She repeats this, only to be screamed down by her colleagues, because this promise only applied to prisoners of conscience. And then there are those who think the elections are all a farce and would boycott if they were outside.
The cell block is a microcosm of society. I feel as if I am in the midst of my family. They all advise me to think about my future when I get out. I say that people deserve better than this, and that we haven’t won justice yet, but we’ll keep on trying until we build a better society. I say this and then I read the news about Hosni Mubarak’s jail sentence of three years for fraud in the “Presidential Palaces Case”. I laugh and tell them that the regime obviously thinks that Umm Ahmed, who has been in prison for 8 years and has 6 more to go for signing bad cheques not worth more than 50,000 LE, is more dangerous than Mubarak. What kind of future do you expect me to have in such an unjust society?
The prisoners imagine that al-Sisi is their saviour. Yet they talk freely of social justice and the class system.
We must never forget what we’re really fighting for in the midst of all our other battles, the goals for which we are losing comrades and friends. We mustn’t become a campaign for the release of a particular person, and forget the demands of the Egyptian people who want to put food on the table.
At the same time as we are chanting against the Protest Law we should be fighting to bring down class society. We need to organise ourselves, engage with people, talk to them about the rights of the poor and our solutions to mounting injustice. We need to call for freedom for the poor so that people do not feel that we are distant from them.
If we are going to raise the slogan of freedom for anyone, let it be freedom for Sayyida, Heba and Fatma, three girls I met in the Alexandria Security Directorate. They are accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, and are facing charges which could lead to a death sentence. They were arrested at random and their detention was renewed in January without ever coming before a court.
Freedom for Um Ahmed who hasn’t seen her children for 8 years. Freedom for Um Dina who is the breadwinner for her family. Freedom for Na’amat who got into debt in order to feed her children. Freedom for Farha, Wafaa, Kawthar, Sanaa, Dawlat, Samia, Iman, Amal and Mervat. Our pain is nothing to theirs. We know that there are others who will say they are proud to have known us, but these women will only be remembered with pride at their own family gatherings.
Let’s bring down this class society, but we will never be able to do this if we forget those who are truly oppressed.
Cell 8, Block 1
Damanhour Women’s Prison
22 May 2014