When I learned that Alaa had gone on hunger strike my first thought was that this was a suicidal decision, and one without potential.     

I was naïve. Shady taught me a lesson. 

It’s naive to think that in Egypt today a prisoner will make a decision based on its usefulness. To think about “use” and “effectiveness” you need to believe in some kind of future. But if the horizon is empty, the formula becomes simple and cruel: there are no understandable givens, and you are the sole variable. 

In prison, your world shrinks and diminishes till you can measure it in handspans … only the space within you can accommodate you.” 

Ahmed Douma wrote this in Tora Investigation Prison five years ago. I don’t know if his space is still able to accommodate him today. I hope so, but I doubt it. 

I feel that the space within Alaa has almost run out, and that this is why he took the sanest decision open to him — to start his hunger strike. What’s the use of the body’s wellness when the horizon is blocked? 

Every defense I built I now discovered to be primitive and frail, every energy I conserved ran out in the first hour, every bit of intelligence I developed was not enough to convince a policeman, every idea I invested in couldn’t get the attention of a guard, every image I had of myself I am now the first to mock, every feeling I had for my country was an invitation to be despised and belittled.

All the meanings I’d worked so hard to arrive at could not hold out against the meanings I acquired here. 

Here is the true meaning of fear and anxiety and depression and loneliness and weakness and want and deprivation and suspicion and exhaustion and boredom and oppression and despair and anguish and deformity and ugliness and estrangement … of pain and iron.”

-Hassan Al-Banna Mubarak
Tora Investigation Prison

This is how your space closes in on you. This is how Shady died. 

Shady’s family and friends met at Zeinhom morgue. They took his body and went to a cemetery in the desert New Cairo to pray over him and bury him. I didn’t hear anyone whisper: How did he die? What did the coroner’s report say? 

The reasons are many but the end is one —prison kills, oppression kills. 

And so I’ve come to believe in Alaa’s strike: How can we guarantee the body’s wellness when oppression kills?  

They say you meet “Death’s child” at the exit gate, and that everyone knows this, knows that the child was born to die. But no one tells him. What’s the use? Why live the catastrophe before it and its mercy, too, falls on you? 

At the morgue, Shady’s father said: “This is the first moment of peace I’ve had in two years. Shady is a child of death, he can’t be with those people.”

I used to get angry at the term; why do we use death to praise a person? But disasters have taught me to respect the myth. They say it was coined by Arab physiognomists — the people who study a person’s character based on their appearance. They used it to describe people who had huge energy, who couldn’t rest, as though they were on a mission that they had to complete in record time.  I don’t know who the Arab physiognomists were, and why they thought these youthful characteristics were closer to death than life, but it’s hard to surprise me now. 

If you talk to Shady’s friends they’ll tell you he was going to be a great visual artist, not just because of his talent but because he was so full of energy, so prolific in his output, and a workaholic and obsessed with technology. 

If you talk to Alaa’s friends they’ll tell you he was going to be a great software developer, not just because of his intelligence but because he had a holistic vision and rare foresight.  

I don’t know if they were going to be great achievers in their fields, I don’t care, what hurts is that they were robbed of the chance to try. I’m fed up with the oft-repeated story about someone who was so smart and promising but circumstances didn’t permit it. This is the curse of our country and we’ve grown used to it. 

Shady wrote last October: 

Prison doesn’t kill, loneliness does. I need your support so as not to die.

For the past 2 years, I’ve been trying on my own to “resist” everything that’s been happening to me so I can come out the same person you’ve always known, but I can’t go on. 

I need your support and I need you to remind them that I’m still in prison and that they’ve forgotten me and that I’m dying slowly each day because I know I’m standing alone in the face of everything and I know I have a lot of friends who love me and are afraid to write about me or think I’ll come out anyway without their support.

I need you and I need your support more than ever.”

-Shady Habash
Tora Investigation Prison – until last Saturday

Shady is dead. 

Shady is dead and this perhaps pushes me to accept the myth; all attempts to find logic, all attempts to deny or ignore, and all attempts to survive, are useless. 

But not for us the mercy of the myth, because they won’t stop reminding us that we are children of death. 

Freedom for them all … or for whoever’s left of them.

Sanaa Seif 

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