Behind the prison walls, Egyptian activists continue to make their voices heard with their poems or prose writings, which they manage with difficulty during the few visits allowed, joining a type of literature known in the Arab world as “prison literature.”

A book is released this week by the most famous of these activists, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, 39, who has spent more than 7 years, including in prisons in the past two decades.

The book bears the title "Not defeated yet", and was published by a British publishing house, and includes articles written since the 2011 "revolution" that toppled Mubarak.

The introduction was put by Canadian writer Naomi Klein.

Abdel Fattah's mother, an Egyptian university professor and human rights lawyer, Laila Soueif, said, "His writings are diverse. Sometimes technical, and sometimes poetic or passionate."

"The form of writing may differ, but it only talks about one thing (which is) justice," she added.

It's all happening today.

@alaa's YOU HAVE NOT YET BEEN DEFEATED, translated by an anonymous collective, and with a foreword by @naomiaklein, is here.

Publishes 20 October:

— Fitzcarraldo Editions (@FitzcarraldoEds) October 8, 2021

From Abdel Nasser to Sisi

The last time Laila Soueif saw her son on Monday, when he was transferred in an armored car from the high-security prison in Tora, where he spent the last two years in pretrial detention, to attend his first trial before an exceptional court on charges of "spreading false news."

"You cannot understand Egypt, unless you understand what is happening in prisons," says Elliot Cola, professor of Arabic literature at Georgetown University.

Since the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leader of the International Non-Aligned Movement and the popular leader of the Arab world during the fifties and sixties, Egyptian prisons have passed by writers who recorded their memoirs under regimes that were not merciful with their opponents.

Cola refers to Sanalla Ibrahim or Jamal al-Ghitani's writings about Nasser's prisons, adding, "Even if those prisons were frightening, people could publicly express their solidarity with the prisoners and send them books, food or clothes," adding, "It is completely different in Sisi's shadow.

Kula translated the poems of a colleague of Abdel-Fattah in prisons, Ahmed Douma, one of the symbols of the 2011 revolution as well.

Douma used to get these poems out of prison by giving small papers to lawyers during court sessions.

Douma's book "Curly" (Mujazzed in Arabic), issued by an Egyptian publishing house, was shown at the International Book Fair in Cairo last July, but it was quickly withdrawn for "security reasons".

Poems in the visiting room

"We were happy that the project to publish this book was Ahmed's goal," says Mohamed, brother of Ahmed Douma, who sent him a copy of the book after printing it to prison without knowing if it had reached him. ".

Douma's family vacillated between hope and disappointment at last when she learned that Ahmed could apply for conditional release after serving half his prison sentence.

However, the prison authorities told them that they had to pay 6 million Egyptian pounds, or about 380,000 dollars, in order to be able to submit the application, which is the value of the fines imposed on him under the sentences issued against him.

Ahmed Doma is still in prison, where he was infected twice with the Corona virus, according to his brother, "but his sense of humor was not affected."

In one of his poems, Douma says, "There is no time for depression, no opportunity for sadness, the torrent is pouring down."

His brother recounts that "he was the only one with Ahmed who smiled and laughed through the thick glass of the dock during court sessions while all the others were crying."

Cola says that these two books are not exceptional works, as Egypt has known generations of intellectuals who have matured in prisons, where there are now about 60,000 political prisoners, according to human rights organizations.

He considers that "prison literature is not a small branch of modern Arabic literature. In some places, it is considered the dominant genre that offers the best production."