Socialist Worker

'Prison made me more determined to resist’--Egyptian revolutionary

Mahienour el-Massry spoke to Socialist Worker about her time in jail and the Egyptian military’s ongoing clampdown

Issue No. 2428

Mahienour El-Massry

Mahienour El-Massry (Pic: Mohamed Hossny)


I was the only political prisoner in the women’s prison at first.

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Most of the prisoners were poor women who were jailed simply because they had debts they couldn’t pay.

My cell held 18 women. One had an eight-year sentence.

Another was serving six years for debt she ran up to get money for her husband to go to hospital.

At first many women were suspicious of me as a political prisoner, but over time they came to accept me.

I found that even in prison our ideas are not isolated.

Sometimes other prisoners would sneak me newspapers as I was stopped from getting them inside.

A television showed only the official channel—full of propaganda about how wonderful president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is.

Prison exposes class society. The poorest prisoners have to work.

The official work in the laundry or cleaning bathrooms pays £13 a month. Unofficial work, such as sewing or laundry for other prisoners, pays cigarettes.

The few better off women use other prisoners as servants.

Over time the number of political prisoners rose. By the time I was released there were 11 political prisoners in the jail.

Six had been deported from a Cairo prison where they had been beaten. Two were put in my cell.

I’m still in contact with the women I shared my cell with. I’m not allowed to visit them but I have been to their court cases.

My experience in prison made me more determined that we have to continue our fight.

There is no way to win other than class struggle.

I am lucky to be out and I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me. But I want to remind people about all the other political prisoners in Egypt.

There are about 41,000 political prisoners still in Egyptian jails—and many are on hunger strike in protest at their treatment.

I am part of a campaign for justice for prisoners, called Freedom for the Brave.

Sometimes groups only campaign for their own people in prison—and most political prisoners support the Muslim Brotherhood.

Freedom for the Brave fights for everyone regardless of their political affiliation. It even supports those who have been against us.

We put pictures of individual prisoners along the streets and add their biographies to build solidarity.

We want people to see they are not “terrorists”, as the regime brands them. They are just like our brothers and sisters.

In Egypt today we are seeing the regime showing its most brutal side.

Omar Sherif, a student in Alexandria, was killed recently after being shot at a protest at the university. The regime says that students are the killers.

Protests are difficult under these conditions.

Many street protests get cancelled. This doesn’t mean we have no protests, and there are some workers’ strikes too.

But we are trying to think of imaginative ways to keep resistance going.

The regime is trying to break us. International powers are backing it.

The West’s intervention in the region and the rise of Islamic State has made it even harder for us.

But we still have the power and have faith in the revolution. We have lost a round, but not the battle.

Mahienour el Massry is a revolutionary socialist and human rights lawyer in Egypt.

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