This conversation is part of issue 1 of Status Hour, an emerging collaborative monthly audio journal from the Arab World and beyond.
The night before his last detention on October 21, Alaa Abd El Fattah showed up at a gathering of friends to say goodbye. There was a bass in a corner, which he picked up and started moving his fingers across its strings. At the sound of no melody, and after a few disjoined tunes, he put it back in its place and smiled before a silent audience of close friends.
A month later, on November 18, Alaa celebrated his birthday in his prison cell.
Alaa has been in political detention during the Hosni Mubarak era, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces interim rule following the January 25 revolution, the military-appointed government in July 3, 2013 and the ensuing rule of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He was also threatened with arrest during the short-lived rule of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi.
His last wave of imprisonment in November 2013 was on charges related to the Protest Law. Following his release in March, he was re-arrested in June after being handed a 15-year prison sentence in absentia, even though he was present outside the court the day of the hearing. In September, he was released pending trial, following the judge’s retreat from the hearings, only to return to his prison cell on October 21.
In the last four months in prison, Abd El Fattah saw his sister arrested, his father die and an escalating hunger strike among political detainees, in which he participated. Even though this last detention was the continuation of his struggle, it was also different in some ways. In this conversation with Lina Attalah, held shortly before his latest arrest, he speaks of resistance in the midst of despair, of taking the fight to the very basic site of life, the body.