Letter to my husband, Ramy Shaath, a prisoner of conscience in Egypt
On July 5th, Egyptian security forces arrested Palestinian Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath at his home in Cairo. Shaath, 48, is a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement in Egypt and the son of Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Shaath is being detained in Tora Prison pending investigations as part of a case known as the “Hope Coalition” case. According to authorities, the investigations in the case relate to a plot by civil society activists, in cooperation with an outlawed group, to undermine the state, charges that Shaath’s family vehemently deny. The case includes a number of prominent politicians, journalists and a labor rights activist.
Amnesty International considers Shaath a prisoner of conscience and has called for his “immediate and unconditional” release, as have other rights groups, including the International Federation for Human Rights and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
On the day of Shaath’s arrest, his wife, Celine Lebrun-Shaath was arbitrarily deported to France. Unable to communicate with him directly, she writes this open letter to him on the first anniversary of their wedding.
Ramy, my love,
Today we should be together and celebrating our first wedding anniversary. But it’s been almost two months since the hooded, armed and black-clad Egyptian State Security men took you away from me in the middle of the night. Two months of you sleeping in a narrow and stuffy cell.
We have tried everything to be able to speak or write to each other, but they refused, so I hope this letter reaches you.
I know that you are upset because you are not here with me. You would have wanted to make this anniversary as unforgettable as our wedding — as you do so well with everything you do. I want to hold you and tell you not to blame yourself.
They arrested you because you dared to be proudly Egyptian and Palestinian. You dared to resist the iron curtain that has been falling over Egypt, crushing the aspirations of its disillusioned, revolutionary youth. You dared to oppose Egyptian participation in the Israeli-American conference in Manama. To resist the selling-off of your people’s right to self-determination. I fell in love with your resistance, your mix of vulnerability and resilience. I fell in love with your righteousness, though it was annoying sometimes because of that unanswerable logic and uncompromising frankness. I understand the life you have chosen, in defense of the rights of your people, Egyptian or Palestinian, to live in freedom, justice and dignity, and the sacrifices this can imply. I chose to share this life with you by marrying you, and I regret nothing.
Certainly, since our separation, it has not always been easy. Saying goodbye to you, without knowing when I would see you again, was the hardest thing I ever did. “Let’s go! Let’s go! ” they urged us. Before you disappeared into the van on that dark night, I took a last mental snapshot of you, your face, your eyes. Then it was me they put in a van. As they drove me to the airport, I looked one last time at this city of Cairo that saw our love grow and flourish. This city I love so much despite all its flaws. I don’t know when I will see it again either.
My arrival in Paris was followed by six long weeks of silence, waiting hopefully for a rapid and diplomatic solution to this situation. Wandering the streets of the city, I realized one could feel exiled in their own country. I am losing my sense of time. My life is now punctuated by your days of court appearances and prison visits, the sole opportunities for me to know, through your family or lawyers, how you are doing and to let you know I am alright. You are always very rational and protective, even in your cell. Every message you send comes with a to-do list of things to make sure your family does not want for anything. This is how I know you are staying strong.
Two days ago, however, I received a small envelope. Inside was a bracelet and a note from your daughter explaining that the bracelet had been given to you by some young men detained alongside you, and that you had worn it before giving it to her, to give to me. You had made paper flowers too but they did not allow you to give them to her. I smiled. You’re also a romantic. As I kept rereading her letter, with the bracelet in my hand, tears began to flow until they blurred my vision. It was the first and only time I’ve cried. Since the night they separated us, I’ve done everything to be strong and to be able to fight for you and your struggle for justice. But alone in that room, thousands of miles away, the letter and the bracelet disarmed me.
I thought back to your looks, your voice and your words, serene and reassuring in the middle of the storm while State Security agents turned our world upside down: “All will be well, we will be together soon”.
I cannot give you anything for our anniversary but I promise you I will fight to get back what has been taken away from you – your freedom.
Happy anniversary my love,
*This letter has been translated from the original French.