From the cell right next to mine, cell 14, emanates pain and agony. This pain comes from the nerve in 70-year-old Ibrahim Abu Ouf’s tooth, the former chairman of the Housing, Public Utilities and Reconstruction Committee and secretary of the Freedom and Justice party in Al-Mansoura. Abu Ouf is looking for a solution in his cell, but he can’t find anything. Toothbrushes and toothpaste are banned, as well as all types of medications and painkillers. We are all calling the guards as loudly as we can, but they don’t answer.
A few days before, the prison doctor and detective told us that they were ordered to “shut off their engines”, i.e. not to respond to or solve any problems. Abu Ouf’s pain worsens and so does his aching. Ahmed Aref, a dentist and dental surgeon stands in front of the “skylight” and a long conversation ensues between him and Abu Ouf about the contents of his cell. Abu Ouf finds a piece of soap (the worst kind of soap in the world), so Aref advises him to massage his gums with the soap. I am amazed and silent. Ahmed Aref explains that the soap is similar to the acid produced by the mouth, which causes the nerve pain. Abu Ouf follows the advice and his pain subsides. The man slept in peace, and in the morning, the informants find out what happened and become frustrated.
I followed what happened through the few centimetres of empty space at the top of my cell’s steel door; cell 13 in Al-Aqrab Prison. They call this little space the “skylight”, but I call it the balcony, through which I watch an exciting match or battle between the regime and the Brotherhood.
So far, the regime has used every means of torture and oppression, ranging from the deprivation of food, drink, medical treatment, visitation, books and exercise to using live ammunition, incendiary materials and sniffer dogs. All of this is in the framework of a deliberate programme to subdue the Brotherhood, but so far, I haven’t seen anyone retreat or surrender.
Mostafa Abdel-Azim, 30, who appeared in the famous video of the Baltagiya beating him in front of the Guidance Office on 30 June 2013, is sentenced to death. He is constantly singing, of course mostly Islamic songs, except for one.
Jihad Al-Haddad is 35 years old and lost 34 kilogrammes. He suffers from a large tumour in his knee, and has fainted many times. He is deprived of medical treatment, but that does not stop him from thinking, moving and creativity. His latest creation was his famous article in The New York Times, which he was punished for by the prison administration.
Ahmed Aref is 37 years old, lost 49 kilogrammes, and suffers from problems in his spine. He is an encyclopedia in every sense of the word, not only in dentistry but also in the studies of Quran interpretation, jurisprudence, etc. He stood before the court, strongly and confidently, to expose the torture taking place here, without concern for his jailers and torturers who dominate his cell.
Hassan Al-Qabbani, 33, a promising and diligent journalist. He is always active and moving and constantly striking discussions. His most important activity is writing passionate poems praising his wife, which makes me and others envious of his talent.
Hence, we have been facing a plan for submission, surrender, or frustration for the past four years that has not borne its fruit. Perhaps it did the opposite; perhaps it is the prison administration that has become frustrated.
The Muslim Brotherhood members spend their time praying, fasting, praying throughout the night, and organising daily programmes between the Maghreb and Isha prayers that include lectures, competitions and reflections. They are keen to memorise and review the Holy Quran and obtain their Quranic license from Dr Safwat Hijazi, who was prevented by the prison administration from continuing his valuable lessons in the biography of the Prophet, his wives and daughters, and the history of Bani Israel.
Everyday, Khalil Al-Aqeed tells us the events of the Turkish historical series, “The Revival: Ertugrul”, and it is exactly as if we are watching it.
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My fellow prisoners and I have several discussions about general issues, positions and the Brotherhoods decisions. Most participate, and only a few believe that the Brotherhood does not make mistakes and is always right. The youth is not impressed with this staunch approach.
After I finished my lecture on Turkey and its modern history, the development of the Islamic movement after the fall of the Islamic Caliphate, the Welfare Party led by Erbakan, and then the youth’s separation from the party (including Erdogan, Abdullah Gul and Davutoglu), their establishment of the Justice and Development Party, their participation in politics, and the success they achieved in most areas until now, two shocking comments were made about the lecture by two figures. The first figure was a prominent member of the Guidance Office and the second was an official who was part of President Morsi’s presidential team. The first said that Erdogan’s experience would not last and the second decided not to consider Erdogan’s party an Islamist party, and that the Islamists in Turkey were the Muslim Brotherhood.
When the guide, Dr Al-Katatni, and a number of leaders heard about this, they condemned these comments, deeming them personal opinions that do not reflect the opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood.
I have thought about approaching the Supreme Guide about a number of sensitive and thorny issues that the Brotherhood has erred in, especially in the period immediately following the January revolution. However, I quickly retreat in the face of a man who is 75 years old and suffers from a number of severe illnesses, starting from his mouth, as they’ve deprived him from his dentures, to haemorrhoids that prevent him from sitting on the seat in the prison transportation vehicle and in the courtroom. So far, the man has attended nearly 700 court hearings and has been sentenced to almost 200 years in prison as well as the death sentence. Despite this, he does not complain. He is a rare example of perseverance and patience, and I am too shy to ask him any question. I thank him for the smile that does not leave his mouth and the pieces of cloves he puts in my hand at every hearing.
The Muslim Brotherhood is living in a state of purity, sincerity and love for God. Our responsibility towards our country requires steadfastness, but is sincerity and steadfastness enough to build a civilisation, without knowledge about the means, mechanisms and relations of governance and politics that the Brotherhood threw themselves in?
Read: Jailed Brotherhood spokesman disciplined for New York Times article
I asked the Brotherhood: What do you study within the Brotherhood families? The answered: We study jurisprudence, doctrine, interpretation, preaching…that is all.
I asked them: Do you study anything about politics, law, economics, Egypt’s modern history, or the Egyptian society? They said no.
I said: So how did you imagine governing and managing a reality the dimensions, depths and challenges of which you know nothing about. There were several answers, but the confusion was the same.
The next day, a young leader eagerly approached me and said: We study Islam and it is a comprehensive and complete system that organises all aspects of life. Isn’t that enough?
I said: Yes, Islam is a comprehensive system, it includes preaching, jurisprudence and Quranic interpretation, and it also includes politics, economics and society studies. This is because it is comprehensive. However, you study only a part of it, preaching and the likes, and you leave the other part that includes politics and related studies. Therefore, you negate its breadth.
He replied: I have always been committed to the advocacy and preaching aspect, both inside and outside of governance and politics, and therefore I cannot be blamed.
I said no and explained that many of the rules and principles of advocacy and preaching are the opposite of the principles of politics. In preaching, time is part of the treatment based on the principle of gradualism that suits the mind of humanity, while in politics, the passing of time contributes to the aggravation and escalation of problems. In politics, problems must be tackled and solved with bold and immediate decisions otherwise they close in on you from all sides and your opponents can use them against you.
Furthermore, in preaching, one must presume good faith on the par of others (give your brother 70 excuses) while in politics, one cannot rule out bad intentions, as some may appear to be good while behind your back they are plotting to betray you and stage a coup against you.
In preaching, you can offer your dignity to whomever you choose, but in politics, the law must be enforced against anyone who violates your dignity or the dignity of a citizen, otherwise dignity is violated and the entire society is corrupted and abused.
In preaching, the only means is advocacy and guidance, and that is where your job ends, as you cannot do more (you are not responsible for their guidance). As for politics, there is no room for advocacy and guidance. You must use legal force to implement the constitutions, laws and judicial decisions because you are tasked with achieving results based on your political programme and platform that you promoted and based on which the people elected you in order to achieve a better life for them.
Generally speaking, if you apply the rules of preaching to politics, politics will fail and preaching would be lost. If you combine both rules, you will have combined contradicting styles and methods and your actions will be confusing to others. It is difficult, even impossible, for those whose talents and abilities are based purely on preaching and have lived most of their lives as preachers to succeed in the exercise of political work. There must be a separation between preaching work and political work within the framework of the comprehensive Islamic reference for both, within its moral, value and civilisational limits that encompass all functions and disciplines within society.
The youth engage in such serious discussions that are free from prejudices and accusations. They believe that there must be new judgements and formulations that suit the successive events and address the regional and international developments; a vision must be formulated. Some leaders do not see a need for this.
The saying goes: history repeats itself, but it also goes: history does not repeat itself. Regardless of which of these is more accurate, history has indeed repeated itself. In the 1950s Abdel Nasser decided to annihilate the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Abdel Nasser is gone and the Muslim Brotherhood remained. The Muslim Brotherhood actually came back stronger than before. Thanks to their loyalty to their ideas and their perseverance and steadfastness in prison, they returned and started a new phase, which is actually old; they returned to practicing political work and the rules and concepts of preaching without knowledge or studying the political reality, its dilemmas, complexities and betrayals. They returned to exercising politics with good faith, guidance and advocacy and therefore the events in the 1950’s were repeated on a larger scale with Abdel Nasser’s successors.
The match or battle between the regime and the Brotherhood has gone on for four years and the clock shows that the match is in its final rounds. Will it end with points or a knockout? Only God knows.
The public is starting to move from the regime’s side of the stand to the Brotherhood’s, as the regime did not extend the “tender hand” it had promised. Instead, it extended a poisonous hand and therefore the Brotherhood’s side of the stands began to fill.
It seems that so far, the regime has not seen this shift despite its many eyes. Maybe this is due to its arrogance in its power and authority and perhaps it is due to its stubbornness and inability to shake its old habit, i.e. using force and oppression to subjugate those with an idea who do not give in.
In the beginning of 2012, the top political officials in the Muslim Brotherhood told me that they had conducted an opinion poll to measure the group’s popularity. The result was a great drop in their popularity, ranging from 12 per cent to 25 per cent. Despite this, a few days later, President Morsi called for parliamentary elections, even though he knew the poll’s results. This is a testimony I give to those who are interested and those who aren’t interested in the matter.
During the last hearing of my trial in the Rabaa protest dispersal case, one of the generals leaned over to me and whispered in my ear: When will this story end Mr Essam? We are very tired and the country has fallen. I quietly replied: I will not say it will be over with a settlement, the concession of the regime or the concession on the Brotherhood. I will say something different to you: If the law is being implemented strictly to those standing before you by independent and honest judges and the prison’s regulations are also being enforced on them strictly, nothing else. In this case, the sense of justice will generate content in the soul and this will result in these souls’ willingness to discuss and address all the issues and then come up with dozens of solutions for even the most difficult problems. This has happened throughout history to dozens of nations and peoples who have suffered worse than what we are suffering, both in the past and present. However, the continuation of injustice, fabrication, fraud, trials that are useless and a mockery, and torture in prisons will only lead to more perseverance and steadfastness and the exacerbation of problems.
The general replied: You mean if the trials are normal, like any other trial? The members of the Brotherhood would be released from prison tomorrow and the people would re-elect them!
I said to him, contently: Really?
To sum up what I see and what I witness: Serious solutions do not stem from a poisonous atmosphere and the free and sincere to not surrender to pressure. They can be swayed with good words, with the truth and justice. The methods and styles of gangs will only complicate problems.
This is my testimony- Essam Sultan
This article first appeared in Arabic in the Huffington Post Arabi on 15 August 2017.