Tahrir Square Dissident Calls for Peace and Secularism in Israel

The country’s first post-revolutionary “prisoner of conscience” urges preparations for a post-Morsi Egypt

by Shira Rubin on 25 December 2012 10:42


"It’s very essential for dictatorships to have an enemy, and for Egypt, Israel is a very good case to be the enemy", said Egyptian dissident Maikel Nabil Sanad on Sunday in Jerusalem, the first stop in a peace tour of Israel and Palestine.  

“But our fates are linked,” he said,” Dictatorships won’t fall unless the U.S. and Israel stops supporting them.”

As clashes escalated over an Islamic-backed draft constitution in Egypt, Maikel arrived in Israel in an effort to end “the monopoly which governments have over peace processes,” he wrote in his blog.

“I don’t believe Morsi… or his constitution… will last more than a few months,” he said.  “Civil society is becoming stronger, as the short term policy of Egyptian government will lead to continuous cycles of failures.”

Sponsored and organized by U.N. Watch - the Geneva-based human rights NGO – Maikel’s visit will include Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Against the backdrop of an increasingly polarized Egyptian public, “Maikel’s message brings people together,” said U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

In the next two weeks Maikel hopes to “cross borders and open doors for people like me,” who see militarization and the blending of state and religion as major culprits in oppression in the Middle East.

Charging through the ancient portals which flank the Old City in Jerusalem, Maikel Nabil emphatically skipped the holy sites.

“They’re just old,” he said, with a chortle, adjusting his black fedora.

He’s here to discuss the present and the future, not the past.  

Sanad has received numerous death threats from Israeli “extremists,” and said he would hold the Israeli government accountable if anything were to happen to him during his stay.  

He speaks English to the Palestinian staff at restaurants and takes long detours to avoid sensitive religious or political areas.

But Maikel Nabil is no stranger to intimidation.

Since his early years as an activist he, and consequently his family, were the subject of state manipulations and intimidations.  His father, Nabil Sanad senior, was forced to leave his position as a bank manager on account of his son’s politics.  

Decidedly more controversial than his atheism and support for gay and civil rights in Egypt, however, has been his pro-Israel stance.  

His vocal commitment to solidarity between the two nations - while leaving a caveat for criticism of what he calls racist and unjust militaristic policies - has earned him the moniker of “Zionist traitor,” even amongst relatively liberal Egyptians.

In a 2010 blog post, Maikel explained his refusal to serve the mandatory service, writing, “I don't want to point a weapon at a young Israeli, recruited into obligatory service, defending his state's right to exist. I think obligatory service is a form of slavery.”

Maikel mourns the death of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and advocates its revision to reflect modern realities.  

In both Egypt and Israel he laments the use of security issues as a front to hijack civil freedoms.

Unlike most of the early protestors of Tahrir Square who saw the military as the antithesis of the police force – which was known for publically attacking demonstrators – Sanad worked to expose its violations.  

“The army and the people were never one hand,” he wrote in a blog post.  

His detailed descriptions of military abuses - “virginity tests” conducted on female protests, beatings and torture – led to his arrest in 2011.  He was charged with “insulting” the military on false pretenses, making him the first “prisoner of conscience” in a post-Mubarak Egypt.

His response to a three year sentence at the notorious el-Marg prison - where he was labeled an Israeli spy, sexually abused, placed in solitary confinement, and sent to a psychiatrist to document his insanity - Maikel spent four months on a hunger strike, withering down to 100 pounds.  

After a fierce and prolonged battle taken up by international lawyers and human rights organizations Sanad was released in January 2012.

Maikel Nabil speaks of his homeland devoid of nostalgia, with one exception - when he hears of mass protests on the streets of Cairo, and wishes he could be there with them.

Though he is currently studying for a Masters in public policy in Germany with ambitions of a life in politics, he said that as long as his family, friends and people are in danger, he must return home to fight for progress in Egypt.

“I am now asking myself what’s after Morsi, and I’m thinking for the next ten years, for the long term,” said Maikel.

Shira Rubin is a freelance digital journalist currently based in Jerusalem, where she is writing her MA thesis work on Palestinian transnationalism and national identity.

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