What happens to a writer who becomes a political prisoner? “I have nothing to say.”
This weekend, The Guardian got a group of Arab writers from various nations to look back at the Arab Spring five years after it began and assess how their views on it have changed. They are all worth reading. One that stood out with aching clarity, though, was the piece by Alaa Abd El Fattah (pictured), an Egyptian blogger who last year was sentenced to five years in prison for protesting his nation’s authoritarian regime. He is currently a political prisoner. Here is how he describes life in prison:
I spent most of 2014 in prison, yet I still had lots of words. My audience was much diminished, my message not one of hope, and yet it felt important to remind people that even after admitting defeat we can still resist; that going back to the margins we fought from during Mubarak’s time was acceptable as long as we continued to fight for basic human rights. But by early 2015 as I heard my sentence I had nothing left to say to any public. I could only write personal letters. The revolution, and indeed Egypt itself, would slowly fade out even from those letters, and by autumn 2015 even my personal words dried up. It has been months since I wrote a letter and more than a year since I’ve written an article. I have nothing to say: no hopes, no dreams, no fears, no warnings, no insights; nothing, absolutely nothing. I try to remember what I wrote for the Guardian five years ago on the last normal day of my life. I try to imagine who read that article and what impact it had on them, I try to remember what it was like when tomorrow seemed so full of possibility and my words seemed to have the power to influence (if only slightly) what that tomorrow would look like.
I can’t really remember that. Now tomorrow will be exactly like today and yesterday and all the days preceding and all the days following, I have no influence over anything.
We should all be grateful we’re not in prison, and we should all do something for someone who is.