Released but imprisoned daily: Alaa Seif on the need for new imaginations
 
 

Alaa Abd El Fattah, a political activist and software developer, was released from prison at the end of March after serving a five-year sentence. He is on probation for an additional five years and has to turn himself in to a police station for 12 hours every day, from 6 pm to 6 am.

When Alaa visited our office, he told us, “Do you know the story of Alaa Abd El Fattah? There is an imaginary creation named Alaa Abd El Fattah, that’s not me. This is someone in the media and in the imagination of some of the people who took part in the revolution and in the imagination of the security establishment. At some point in my life I used to play this role in the public domain when I was a different person. And then this role completely unraveled.”

In his first media interview since his release, Alaa Seif spoke with Mada Masr.

This conversation has been edited for clarity.

Mohammed Hamama: How did you write the articles about Uber?

Alaa Seif: With a pen and paper.

Lina Attalah: When I interviewed Laila [Soueif, activist and mother of Alaa], we were a bit astonished at how informed you were while in prison writing that series, seeing as how the various sources of information—the internet, books, research, conversations—were not available to you. Still, you were very aware of what was going on. So the question occurs to me: how do you create knowledge while in prison?

Alaa: That article in particular coincided with a loosening of the restrictions over the books and magazines that were allowed in. It happened suddenly, and came after a period in which I was smuggling in books. Publications were being reviewed by the National Security Agency and only novels or comics were allowed in. I avoided making trouble. Not to make it easy for them, but because I was tired of fighting. Then, all of a sudden, they decided to let current magazines in – mostly mainstream publications that I don’t usually read, including foreign ones, like Wired or Time. They weren’t publications about language or criticism, or anything about capitalism, or what the powers that be are up to. Even so, it was something new that I hadn’t been exposed to for a long time.

That same year, the debate over artificial intelligence was everywhere. I would read the Egyptian papers – I was allowed Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar, and Al-Masry Al-Youm. All the Egyptian papers tried to cover the subject, in ways that ranged from total ignorance to transcribing corporate press releases. There are a few voices at Al-Masry Al-Youm that are ostensibly respectable — important and informed opinion writers like Abdel Moneim Said. But all they do is look at Apple’s latest press release for a new product and write an article from it, heralding a new, marvelous age. Even outlets that I see as tools of capitalism — like Newsweek, Wired, or Time — were more critical than the Egyptian press. So I really felt this vacuum. The subject wasn’t new to me in the sense that I had no opinion — I was reformulating things I had thought about before going to prison.

For the Uber series in particular, what happened was that it was clear there was a debate happening on social media in Egypt. My sisters would tell me about it during visits. They were torn. Given the family’s traditional leftist leanings, they were worried about the impact on taxi drivers; but because they are women, there was also this idea of the safe space offered by Uber. So they had questions, and we spent two visits talking about it. It was fun. So the article grew out of those two things.

Hamama: You said that what was allowed inside changed every so often. How so?

Alaa: There was no rule. I also felt there was never an explicit ban when it came to books, but things would be set aside for months for “review,” and after a while I would forget about them. During every visitation, I’d be brought new things and some would be let in and some wouldn’t. Yesterday, I remembered that J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye never made it in. It got stuck with them. I don’t think they rejected it for censorship reasons. I think they have one officer there who understands English and was in the security directorate or something and it just fell through the cracks in the system. The ban was clearer with magazines and newspapers.

Foreign publications made them very nervous. Part of it is that the state every so often picks a fight with the Economist, or BBC, or Reuters. So they would know there is a dispute with various foreign media.

Lina: Speaking of books, we wanted to ask you if some discovery, something extremely informative, stayed with you over the years of prison, a discovery from things you read that you had no knowledge of before prison. I understand, for example, that you discovered Walter Benjamin in prison.

Alaa: I did, in the early period, before my initial release. I also re-read Edward Said. I had read him when I was very young and I imagined that I knew what he was writing about, but I didn’t really. I had a project to re-read things from the last century or before that I felt were really pressing for us now, but when I was sent back to prison to that oppressive atmosphere, I didn’t keep it up. I was in a different state from the one my father was in prison. When I invest psychologically and emotionally in something, it makes me feel vulnerable — that at any moment they will come and take it from me and then I’d have to wage a battle over something I hold dear. It was easier for me to deal with everything on a more superficial level and just try to do the time. So I didn’t have a study project exactly.

Another problem was letters. If I was sitting, waiting for a response to something and they were delaying it, and it might or might not be allowed in, and my response might or might not be allowed out — that would put me in a bad mental state.

My reading was extremely random and based more on entertainment than any specific intellectual project. Only near the end, my cousin started bringing me materials about what was going on in Europe in those days, like [former Greek finance minister] Yanis Varoufakis’s memoirs about managing the debt crisis in Greece, or some recent theorizing about the crisis in the labor market, or ideas now popular in Europe like universal basic income. I think he’s the one who developed a reading project, not me, to help me keep up with what was being said.

 

I did get a lot of comics. This is my favorite art form, especially narrative art, more than cinema or novels. I made some discoveries. A friend sent me Japanese manga translated into English. Of course, manga is a huge category. I knew it existed, but I didn’t know where to begin, I had only read the classics. So that opened up some new, nice things. There’s a fantastic comic, called Daytripper in English, that was really meaningful for me. It’s published in the US, but the artist and writer is Brazilian. It’s got a magical realism bent, which is really appropriate for prisoners. It’s a perfect gift for any prisoner who can read English. Or maybe someone can translate it. I also read some very good science fiction, and I collected stories and narratives about failed revolutions.

Naira Antoun: Do you have any recommendations?

Alaa: There’s a really depressing one about the revolution in Korea I hadn’t heard of. It’s very, very bleak and is really similar to our situation. I can’t recall the name, but I’ll try to remember. For a while, I was obsessed with the Weimar Republic, the interwar period in Germany. But I had collected stories of failed revolutions even before the revolution in Egypt, I don’t know why.

“I had collected stories of failed revolutions even before the revolution in Egypt, I don’t know why.”

Hamama: So, our revolution was a failure?

Alaa: No way! How could you say such a thing? Everything is great. We won and saved the soul of the country.

Naira: You said your experience of projects in prison was different from your father’s?

Alaa: When my dad was imprisoned, he was a graduate of the college of economics and political science. He studied law inside and came out to work as a lawyer, and he did things with prisoners, too. We are very different personalities.

Lina: You didn’t think about studying something?

Alaa: I considered it when I was imprisoned alongside friends like Ahmed Maher [co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement], who got a diploma in prison. They brought in materials about the available fields, but I got fed up with the formulation, the language, the method, the fonts, everything. I really couldn’t deal with it. Before the end, I was thinking about how I was going to make a living on probation and how I could go back to programming after five years of complete interruption. I was convinced that I hadn’t lost the skill, but it’s about proving that. Convincing people of that is hard. So I thought I’d do a master’s degree, a BA isn’t enough. I asked my mom to bring me the materials about the master’s programs at the computer and information faculties at Cairo, Helwan, and Ain Shams Universities. But it was an utter disaster, pure misery. It’s extremely bureaucratic. The first 30 pages are a description of various procedures and laws. It’s incredible, there’s nothing to engage the student at all. Then I saw the pages where they outlined the structure of the departments. There’s a group emeritus professors who got their degrees before computers even existed, plus everyone is on secondment or traveling, so the departments are empty anyway. It’s utterly haphazard and is the embodiment of the destitution of the Egyptian state. It just stopped caring.

Lina: Did you have a chance to catch up on programming? Was there any source for discussion? Was there a chance to talk about technology from a technical standpoint, specifically programming, over the five years? Or are you coming out now from a completely different place?

Alaa: They tried to get books to me at a certain point, but now, no one writes books in which it is assumed that you’re not sitting in front of the internet. Even the parts about programming, the scientific journals, are filled with barcodes and QR codes. Egyptian papers are unbelievable, they’re always talking about what you’ve read on their website. It’s not publishing news, it’s publishing comments on news that we all supposedly already know about. We would just sit there holding the newspaper trying to decipher it. There’s a subject and people are arguing about it, but I couldn’t understand what the subject was because they never prefaced it at any point. Terrorism coverage, for example. The papers cover the funerals, but not the incident itself, so I would have to figure out what was happening from the story about the funeral. If this is the way the papers are, imagine computer stuff.

“The things that I’ve lost and I find difficult are the most unexpected things. I get lost in the streets. I get confused when I’m asked to do two things at once”

What I am discovering as I try to return to life generally — I still haven’t tried returning to professional life — is that the things that I’ve lost and I find difficult are the most unexpected things. I get lost in the streets. I get confused when I’m asked to do two things at once. When I try to simultaneously schedule more than one thing, I get exasperated and lose it, not to the point of hysteria, but it’s stressful. I imagine that when I return to work, the big things won’t be hard, but the small things will. They’ll be very disorienting. I spent four and a half years uninterrupted – from late October 2014 to late March 2019 – all in the same place, having the same routine every day. It’s well-known that prisoners experience post-traumatic stress, but I thought it was because of a painful prison experience. Now it’s clear to me that it’s because of the jump from the deep freeze back to the world. And Cairo, wow — there’s lots of stuff happening at the same time. It’s very disorienting.

Hamama: This is a good segue into the subject of probation. This transition from an unvarying routine to zero order and zero routine. Anything can happen, it could be a good or a bad day.

 

Alaa: The first thing you need to understand is that probation isn’t 12 hours a day, especially in my situation where there is a perceived threat. Showing up a little late should be normal, but with me, there’s no guarantee. I don’t want to test it. The problem is that the law doesn’t set an exact time — it specifies sunset to sunrise, which leaves it very much up in the air. It could be set by the prayer times which would make it vary. But for them, it’s 6 pm to 6 am. Sunset is not at 6 pm and sunrise isn’t at 6 am, but it doesn’t matter, for them, it’s 6 to 6. That means starting at 4 pm you need to begin moving to a place close to the police station, and at 5 or 5:15, you need to start heading to the station. There’s Cairo traffic of course, and this is during rush hour. And then you need to have a bag with you with a change of clothes, bedding, books to read. So starting at 4 pm, I’m already on probation. I get out at 6 am, but no one is awake then and no one does anything. I’ve got a list of people divided into two camps: those who are awake at 6 am and those who aren’t. I try to meet the people who get up at 6 and have breakfast with them. So I’ve got four hours that are supposed to be mine, but they aren’t really.

“I’ve got a list of people divided into two camps: those who are awake at 6 am and those who aren’t.”

Police stations aren’t set up to house people, regardless of whether there are dedicated quarters. The quarters are nightmarish places and totally ad-hoc. There are lots of shifts at the station, lots of people, lots of assigned officers. There’s no stability. There is a special effort to treat me well, at least as well as the station’s capacity allows. They are trying to treat me comfortably, but the arrangements themselves are tiresome, they don’t have the capacity.

The problem in my relationship with the authorities is that, for them, the norm is to violate your physical dignity. As long as your body is fine — You’ve eaten? Had some water? Slept? — everything is fine and they shouldn’t hear a peep from you. There’s always pressure from the authorities for you to think this way. Or you have feelings of guilt because you know others are in worse conditions. You complain that they won’t let in foreign specialty magazines and you know you’re spoiled and that others don’t get visits at all. Things like that. Of course, this mindset is wrong. It means you’re normalizing the violations. There’s always someone who’s worse off than you. It’s the same logic as, “Look at Syria and Iraq and Libya.” Everyone should fight for their maximum rights and we should all try to support each other. But that mindset is there.

Even in my confrontations with National Security officers, they insist that they are making exceptions for me. What exceptions? That I’m in a room by myself, it’s clean, that they let me listen to music and have books, and things like that. There is nothing that allows them to deny me these things during probation. There’s nothing that lets them deny me these things in prison. So I don’t understand what we’re even talking about. But even if we forget all that, the police station isn’t equipped. At least in prison there’s stability – the more time passes, the more comfortable you feel with it. But in the police station, it’s a new scene every day. You turn yourself in each day to start over again from scratch — every single day. It’s exhausting and destroys any ability to return to your life.

“You turn yourself in each day to start over again from scratch — every single day. It’s exhausting and destroys any ability to return to your life.”

In practice, I look for someone to have coffee with or eat breakfast with, then I go wake up Khaled [Alaa’s son] and drive him to school. So at least I’ve seen Khaled. There’s no work of course. At 6 am there’s nothing going on — it’s like a scene from 1945 when people were farmers and civil servants and the streets were lit with gas lamps. Now I’ve got to perform all biological functions in 12 hours. I try to cling to my right to be able to enter with my telephone and laptop so I can work. I work for maybe six hours and sleep for six. 

It’s so depressing for us to accept that it’s just normal for a person to be punished for ten years for a demonstration and then have to argue with them to get them to apply the law, which was issued by royal edict in 1945.

Naira: Is Khaled confused to see you outside prison?

Alaa: Fortunately no, but of course I’m not able to be present in his life the way I’d like because of probation. He’s not confused exactly, he was prepared for me to get out and spend time with him. He was happy for us to do different things together. In prison I saw him, of course. He came nearly every visitation, unless he was traveling. I’d sit with him for maybe ten minutes in the crowded hall and then I had to see everyone else who came to visit. Now, we can spend time and it’s his time. This is where I most feel there’s been a real change. Without Khaled, probation would be lethal and exhausting. It’s a terrible tool and the idea that you just turn yourself in like that is so, so oppressive. When they put me in prison they came and took me; but to participate in one’s own imprisonment is extremely troubling. If it weren’t for Khaled, I really think I’d be worse off than I was in prison.

Hamama: This idea of normalizing the relationship between the body and authority, that a person normalizes oppression when he says he’s better off than others and so starts making more and more concessions…

Alaa: I try not to do this. I try to never do it — to make concessions on something that was already agreed upon, but it requires incredible energy. It consumes you. It’s much more exhausting than giving in to them, and it requires support. Since the option of submitting isn’t really on the table, the only option is to kill things inside you. Like when I decided in prison that I wouldn’t care too much about anything. I didn’t stop demanding things and fighting for them, but I stopped caring about them.

Hamama: There is an apparent contradiction between negotiating and taking a radical stance. How do you resolve this?

Alaa: I’m a student of the South African struggle. They were awe-inspiring in their ability to work on all levels. When the apartheid regime finally agreed to negotiate, everyone connected to the opposition said, “Talk to Nelson Mandela.” The man had been buried for nearly a quarter century and he still came back with something new. He didn’t refuse to meet them but he would say, “Release us from prison and we’ll negotiate.” At every step, he would say the same thing.

I’m not saying we wasted the chance to negotiate, no one was convinced of the value of it. All parties thought they were capable of settling everything on their own. Incredibly, all parties still think that, even the weakest ones. Egyptians are obsessed with this idea of a decisive win — that there will be this one battle we can wage and settle everything once and for all, and all our foes will disappear and we won’t need to fight them ever again. But the Islamists aren’t going anywhere and neither is the army, nor the people that reject the whole system, nor the people who want a liberal democracy. It’s a fantasy. The very idea of a decisive resolution is annoying.

Egyptians’ imaginative space had no room for the idea that we could sit down together at some point and see what we’re going do with ourselves and this country and each other. I don’t think the current situation allows for it or there is any space to think like this. I wrote something yesterday — because I knew I was coming to talk with you — about Egyptians giving advice to the Sudanese. I had noticed there was an argument underway about Egyptians’ advice to Sudanese, and it was all between Egyptians because the Sudanese don’t have time for us. I wrote about how the person giving unsolicited advice is living on nostalgia. He’s doing something for himself, not the other person. It’s fine to be nostalgic, but let’s benefit from it. Being stuck on this question of whether to leave the square or stay? That’s a stupid question. That question is decided based on extremely local conditions. It’s better to turn to more complex issues. At what point should we negotiate? At what point do we begin to articulate demands?

“Being stuck on this question of whether to leave the square or stay? That’s a stupid question.”

When we were in the middle of the revolution, we had no problem using nationalism and identity, thinking we could adapt these discourses of power to a common, broad-based discourse that would be ours that we could reproduce and believe in. And then part of what happened was that the monster was awakened and hijacked it all using the same nationalist, identity-based discourses. The same is true of the trap of masculinity, which it’s very easy to fall into when you’re in a state of confrontation – an actual physical, bodily conflict – but then later you pay the price. It may be more useful to talk about these things, and for this to be the advice we give to people. Whether they listen or not doesn’t matter, because the process will at least be useful for us. This is something we need to talk about, but not with the logic of, “If on this day, we had done that, then this other thing wouldn’t have happened.” That’s not how it works. It was much bigger than us, the Muslim Brotherhood, or the army.

The important thing is we abandon the project for a decisive resolution. That we abandon the idea that these things are solvable and there are definitive solutions for everything. Like, what’s the solution to traffic? What does that mean? You’re in Cairo, there’s no solution to traffic. Most of the basic problems facing Egypt — that the state keeps failing to solve and that anyone would fail to solve — are too big to solve. There isn’t a solution per se, so we need to sit and talk to each other. There are some things that are not possible to solve without talking with the whole world — global problems. So we need to let this go. This mindset is especially annoying at a time when there is no room for action. For example, we finally start talking about gender and violence against women, and people in the movement start saying that the solution is to stiffen penalties and imprison people. That leads nowhere except to more people in prison. We need to learn how to negotiate with each other. Not to bring the right and left together, but within the left.

Hamama: There are global problems…

Alaa: There’s nothing but global problems. We are just playing around looking inward in Egypt, we’re wasting time.

Hamama: If we want to talk about resistance, local or universal, resistance to what exactly?

Alaa: I’ve reconsidered many things in a big way. I’ve come to feel that the word ‘resistance’ is a trap. The Western left has spent 20 years cheapening the term. Anything any marginalized person does is called resistance. Palestinians keep on breathing? It’s resistance. But people will continue to breathe no matter the conditions. Steadfastness is resistance. Circumventing the regime and getting one over on it is resistance. Anything can be resistance. This battle to define terms is a losing one and we should just abandon it.

My feeling is that the world is in such crisis that it has made us incapable not of action, but of imagination. The generation that’s taking over now came up in the 1990s, when there were lots of ideas and lots of theorizing, but no action, so action was the necessary thing. Now we’ve spent ten years acting and have discovered that we’re acting on ideas borne of the Second World War. There is a dire crisis of imagination, and at the same time, people are dying to do something. It’s clear that the entire world order is in crisis, and the crises are mounting. Just look at the UK, it’s an utter farce.

“My feeling is that the world is in such crisis that it has made us incapable not of action, but of imagination.”

I feel that we need to go through a phase like the one that gave rise to Dada and the Surrealists. We need to go through a period where absurdity is celebrated and then dismantle everything, and we need to do it thoroughly, because deconstruction through ridicule, mockery, and post-truth has become an assault on meaning itself. You can’t distinguish lies from truth when there’s no such thing as truth and striving after it is ridiculous. I’m not talking about memes and ridicule and the like. On the contrary, I’ve come to see these things as destructive of any ability to treat any subject seriously. The idea that satire is resistance has become harmful. We’re not going to stop telling jokes, but we need to reconfigure how we think about things without falling into the easy outs of mockery, ridicule, and crying over spilled milk.

 

People are excited about these ideas that are just old ideas in a new package, and they’re very fragile and easily hijacked. Like universal basic income (UBI), which is driving me mad. I mean, anything the libertarians come up with is wrong in principle. The idea that the left and the rabid far right are in agreement on this means something is wrong. Bringing all the poor into a cash economy means you’re taking them and just serving them up to the banks. I’m not sure, because economics is not my strong suit and I haven’t read up on it, but I feel there’s something wrong with this whole story. It’s a trap we’re falling into.

There needs to be a global dialogue first before we figure out how to get out of these crises. I’m not up to speed. Are spaces like art or academia doing this? I feel these spaces have been nationalized and homogenized around the world, not just here. This is the impression of a prisoner who read magazines and the like. And the internet has become a strange place, impossible to grasp. No one gets it.

Lina: It’s true, it’s like the internet when it first started.

Alaa: You remember that article by Hossein Derakhshan? When he wrote that he got out of prison and found the web was dead thanks to chats and social media? Getting out, I feel like we’ve gone back to the Stone Age. People speak in emojis and sounds — ha ha ho ho — not text. Text and the written word are so nice. So I’m bothered. I feel like there has been a regression even in two-way conversation, not just collective – in the ability to deal with complex topics.

Part of the problem with Egyptians’ debate over Sudan, in my view, is less the fault of Egyptians than the medium. You’re just swallowed up by it. You have passionate discussions with your friends because Facebook is made that way. You have a conversation where you try to theorize what you experienced and try to understand what these people are doing, and you try to reach out to people who are up on the subject and can tell you about Sudan’s history, not just about what’s happening now. And you’re in these circles of people sending gifs and heart emojis. So this is the inevitable product of the conversation. This medium is stifling. It’s very strange that the entire world knows that these tools and mediums are defective and they have no faith in them and are suspicious of them, but they just keep using them. There’s a need for an alternate imagination. I don’t know when it will emerge.

“You’re just swallowed up by it. You have passionate discussions with your friends because Facebook is made that way.”

Lina: Postmodernism and deconstruction and the critical schools associated with them are always criticized as all rhetoric and theory and no action. Are you saying we need some theorizing and there’s not much space for action?

Alaa: I sent you a good book by Mark Fisher, in which he defends the idea of popular modernism or popular images in modernism. He’s originally a music critic enamored by David Bowie and punk, but adopted Derrida’s idea of hauntology. I think we need a space to act similar to that one. It’s the defense of a collective project coupled with the deconstruction of discourses of power. Right now, we work on a social or collective project and become captive to questions of identity or nation, or incremental projects, like the socialists’ historical imperatives.

We need to grapple with confusion, ambiguity, and absurdity as things that exist in the world but that are largely harmful. We need to stop treating absurdity as something good. That’s for when we’re living in an extremely well-ordered society. We need to deal and engage with absurdity and try to escape it by championing meaning. That can only happen in a space of action, and it won’t happen until we sit and theorize with each other. The action may be extremely simple, especially in a situation like Egypt where everything is being throttled. But it doesn’t mean that just because I successfully act that means I am resisting. I’m impressed with the persistence of Mada Masr, for example, and given our circumstances that’s an achievement. It’s a space for action, and it would be useful to sit and talk with each other about what else could happen. How can we not be excited that this group has stuck with it five or six years?

Clearly, there are some available spaces for action in Sudan and Algeria. Yes, the military is lying in wait and so are the Islamists. They will always be there. Where are they going to go? They won’t disappear. But people are still in a moment in which they can act. The same is true in the Global North. The absurdities taking place in France, the UK, or Germany are evidence that the world is in crisis, but there is a space for people to act, to experiment and to fail. I don’t feel like that window has closed, as evidenced by the emergence of people in the US taking strong stances on Israel from within the establishment. This is no small thing. It doesn’t mean Palestine is about to be liberated because it will only be liberated by Palestinians. It’s more significant for Americans than Palestinians. Even the excitement over UBI — I’m worried about the plan, but the energy behind it is proactive. It’s an energy that uses tools like academia.

So while there is some space for action in the world, in Egypt it’s extremely narrow. We’ve never seen this level of repression, but at the same time, it’s fragile. The Egyptian state seems unable to seriously control people’s thought. What exists now has a very limited impact on people’s imagination. There doesn’t seem to be any broad popular engagement with it, but no one knows how to posit alternatives or come up with tools to address people’s imagination. I’m not even sure people still want this.

“The bubble is not a space for action, it’s a space for thought.”

I have a question for people who have some space, like Mada Masr: how comfortable is it for me to keep on shrinking the circle of people I engage with? How long can I be comfortable in that space? It might be a normal thing, I feel it myself right now. This is what makes it so there’s no room to act. This might be necessary for us in order to crystallize our thoughts without distraction, or outside interference, or the need to translate our language into something that won’t shock other people. This works as long as I’m aware that I’m in a bubble in order to crystallize my thoughts. The bubble is not a space for action, it’s a space for thought.

Hamama: So the revolution failed?

Alaa: Yes, by any measure. For example, what did the revolution want? Of course, approaching it as an entity with a single will is tricky, but taking the bare minimum, the revolution spoke about the democratic rotation of power — meaning traditional liberalism — and about stopping violations of the body. Those were the minimum goals of the revolution and today they are subverted on a broad scale.

But the revolution did break a regime. What exists now is an attempt to build something else, not the same regime. This is not a return to the Mubarak order. What exists now must consume incredible energy in order to govern, and it relies on a major, ongoing regional threat. Without the Syrian, Libyan, and Yemeni nightmare, it would have been extremely difficult for the regime to build any legitimacy. So it’s a major error for any opponent of this regime to ignore the magnitude and atrocity of what’s happening around us and not revise their calculations accordingly. We can show no tolerance of sectarian discourse. Let’s set aside the Islamists. They are oppressed and we must speak about the abuses against them, but their ideology is a disaster and will remain so. We must find a way out.

As a rule, revolutions are defeated. I was always saying we were pretty feeble. I think it’s an abject failure that in a moment like 2011-2012, when it had broad popular support, we were unable to articulate a common dream of what we wanted in Egypt. It’s fine to be defeated, but at least have a story — what we want to achieve together. I’m not sure we had that.

Lina: Are there any questions we’ve overlooked?

Mohammed ElRaii: The conventional question: where is Egypt headed?

Alaa: Shouldn’t you have asked that before you boarded? I’m fine and happy with this conversation that is strange, like me. Coming out of prison, I feel strange.

AD