Ahmed Maher has been in jail for 72 days. The charge? Violating a ridiculous new law that forbids public protests. For readers interested in how this letter came about, Maher dictated it to a source who visited him at the prison over the weekend. This person transcribed Maher's words on the spot, then had the letter translated into English before sending it on to me. I have (hurriedly) edited it for clarity and fluidity. For a bit more context and analysis, see my piece posted today at Slate-- DW


I would have liked to send reassuring news about my circumstances, but I'm sad to say that, because of my political opinions, I have been in solitary confinement since November 30. I would have liked to tell you that we are closer to achieving the dreams that I and so many others have worked towards for years, and that all the Egyptian people struggled for during the January 25 [2011] Revolution. Many people sacrificed their lives so that they could turn our country into a place where everyone enjoys stability, freedom, and democracy. A nation that respects the dignity of every human being, and a nation where individual rights are protected by laws applied and enforced equally.

After decades of corruption, oppression, and injustice under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, and during what followed with the failed presidency of Mohammad Morsi and the current military rulers, it saddens me to say that the goals and principles of the January 25 Revolution are nowhere to be found in today’s government. My situation is a case in point: I was arrested and convicted in record time, and slapped with a 3-year prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds merely for expressing disagreement. Specifically, I spoke out against a newly created law prohibiting public protests. I have also repeated (countless times) the same demands for freedom and human rights that we have been making all along.

Conditions in the prison are terrible. Opportunities to meet with my family and my lawyer are extremely limited. And relatives and journalists are not even permitted to attend court proceedings. At the same time, the military uses state media to discredit me and other activists, accusing us of deeds we had nothing to do with, broadcasting taped personal phone calls that reveal nothing other than our commitment to democracy, and describing us as traitors or spies. We have no chance to refute these bogus claims, of course, let alone pursue proper legal recourse.

Although Egyptian state media paints a picture of humanely run prisons with only terrorists and violent criminals behind bars, the harsh reality is that the numbers here at Tora Prison (and probably elsewhere) increase daily. The other inmates are not just members of the Muslim Brotherhood, but almost anyone from any group who has spoken critically of the current regime, including youth activists, liberal and secular organizers, and even foreign journalists.

It should be clear to all by now that we are dealing with a military dictatorship that rejects any opposing views that do not serve its interests, and that deals with peaceful expression of opinion with tragically familiar tactics: swift detentions, torture, and even murder. While Egypt’s economy continues to flounder, state resources are consumed by the propaganda campaign against people like me, and by the effort to convince citizens that the military’s candidate for president, Abul-Fatah el-Sisi, has their interests in mind, and dupe the world into thinking that he wants to build on the legacy of January 25, not crush it.

It was not long ago that people and governments around the world were inspired by our revolution. They told me it was magnificent, that it was fueled by the noblest goals imaginable. To be honest, I am confused by many of those same governments today, including that of the United States. The US preaches freedom, democracy, and human rights while, simultaneously backing—even assisting—Egypt’s military dictatorship. To say that the US and the rest of the world are turning a blind eye to oppression is an understatement.

Yet I do not believe that the people in the US and elsewhere would accept their governments’ support for tyranny and blatant corruption if they had a clear understanding of what is happening here. If they knew that the military-led state is choking the economy, killing and imprisoning its people, and destroying the dreams of the next generation.

I wanted to tell you that we have gotten further. I refuse to accept the possibility that we achieved nothing, and that those who died in Tahrir Square died in vain, but three years later the situation is bleak. Egyptians today are living under a regime that is more fascist and oppressive even than that of the Mubarak regime.

-- Ahmed Maher

AuthorDavid Wolman