By: Abdulrahman Al-Ruwaishan
It is etched in his hunger-harrowed face, drawn in the blood that spills onto his chin, shown in the wake of a receding hairline. A sniper’s bullet to the arm. An arrest warrant issued two days after the arrest itself. Cramped living, filthy quarters, primitive medical care. Torture, mockery and abuse. A year on hunger strike. More than 25 summonses to court. 25 postponements in the trial. Disregard for failing health, not to mention innocence. Brushes with oblivion. Frantic moments when death and life seemed almost coexistent.
The litany of outrages is written on Mohamed’s face in the latest pictures to be released on social media. I don’t know if Mohamed knew all this would happen when he embarked on his hunger strike. I do know that Mohamed is now locked into a mortal struggle. The outcome will not, and cannot, be determined by any save the man himself. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: in my opinion, Mohamed has won. He has stared into the abyss and not backed down, He has established for himself an honor far, far beyond the ability of those who seek to break him to detract or tarnish.
Mohamed went to Egypt to protest the dictatorship of Mubarak. He was fiercely independent, not a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood but willing to be fair and honest. He was deeply devout and even more deeply compassionate. He moved to Egypt after the collapse of Mubarak’s regime, despite the fact that he would have led a much more comfortable life in the US. He wanted to be a proud Egyptian, just like he was a proud American. He wanted to help lift Egypt out of the rut of poverty and repression. Mohamed voted in Egypt’s first free elections. Then he got to work, trying to build a better Egypt. And when the military carried out a coup against a democratically elected president before his term was over, Mohamed called foul. He stuck to his principles, unlike many who sold their convictions and their honor for political expediency and to get rid of political rivals.
In short, Mohamed was merely exercising what should have been his right. And now he is fighting tooth and nail to keep what is his by right.
What about us? What can we say for ourselves? Those who know Mohamed and love him can do more than stand aside and watch. If Mohamed is past the reach of our modest abilities, the rest of the world is not. The rest of the world must come to know Mohamed’s story. Not hear about it, not see it flitting by within the rushing stream of cyber-information, not hear it distant and remote within the tangled hubbub of the media—they must know it, and know it well.
If you are an American citizen that means contacting your senators and representative, not only on a national level but also locally. That means mobilization and organization—for an example, look to the exemplary Free Soltan campaign, busy at work in conferences across the nation, from American Muslims for Palestine to MAS-ICNA—and strategic planning. That means constant Facebook and Twitter posts. That means talking about Mohamed no matter where you go.
Above all that means getting the narrative right. Mohamed is not a victim. He is in grave danger, certainly, but he is no helpless victim. He did not cower in abject fear when he was shot. He did not bow down before the officers who beat him and his fellow inmates. He did not shrink from surgery without anesthesia or actual, sterilized equipment. He did not capitulate in the face of the pernicious abuse he faced. Mohamed is a patriot and a fighter, a dreamer in the fullest, most beautiful sense of the word. He has stood up for himself, the same way he stood up for democracy and the rule of law in Rabaa square, the same way he stood up for Gazans when he brought them aid and succor, the same way he stood up for me and my brother and so many others in the US.
As for the US government and the role it has played in all this—what more remains to be said? The US government did less good than a genuine desire to help would admit of, and much more harm than can be attributed to simple negligence. There is something profoundly wrong with a country that will send a spymaster to negotiate with an inveterate enemy such as North Korea, thus securing the release of political prisoners, and then give an ostensible ally carte blanche when it comes to a prisoner likewise imprisoned on trumped up charges and denied a fair trial or humane treatment. Again, all that can be done here is constant communication with elected representatives, constant agitation and noise. The importance of constant engagement in politics—that means much, much more than voting once every four years—cannot be overstated. He who is not heard will never be acknowledged, much less meaningfully involved in pivotal discussions.
Like any calamity, the unjust imprisonment of Mohamed Soltan has lost its impact as it lengthened, from the months into the years. And yet every once in a while I’ll stop and it will come to me like a freight train: Mohamed is in the hands of people who do not know how decent he is and how utterly indecent they are; and who if they knew would not care at all. Mohamed is in the throes of an agony I cannot imagine. Mohamed, who showed a promise so brilliant that even one so young as I could see it, is in danger.
What excuse do we have, should we falter in supporting him? Will we leave him without our actions, our thoughts and our prayers? Is it too much to ask that we acknowledge in him a role model? As long as Mohamed resists, we have no excuses whatsoever for not resisting.
On the anniversary of the January 25th revolutions we should renew our efforts, so that the flame lit by revolutionaries like Mohamed is not extinguished.
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