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'Infantry soldier' released
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 29 - 12 - 2011

Political activist and blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah heads straight back to Tahrir Square after being released from 56 days in custody, reports Rasha Sadek
"Alaa has been released," tweeted his sister Mona Seif on Sunday morning. Within minutes social networks were spreading the news that 30- year-old Alaa Abdel-Fattah, prominent blogger and activist, was free. He had been detained since 30 October on charges of attacking soldiers, stealing a military weapon, destroying military property, illegal assembly and inciting violence during the 9 October Maspero clashes between protesters and the military that claimed the lives of 26 Copts and one Muslim and left more than 300 injured.
Abdel-Fattah has been banned from travelling pending further investigation. No date for a trial has been set.
The young activist has participated in the revolution since 2 February, the day of the infamous Battle of the Camel. In a letter written in detention he said: "I've constantly been striving to be on the front line... I am Alaa Abdel-Fattah, an infantry soldier in the revolution."
As a civilian, Abdel-Fattah had refused to answer questions from the military prosecution. His detention caused uproar in Egypt and abroad. At home marches calling for his release and referral to a civil court were organised. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights called for his release. Amnesty International condemned his detention, and accused the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of involvement in the Maspero killings.
Abdel-Fattah's internment became a focal point of protests against civilians being tried in military courts. Since the start of the 25 January Revolution 12,000 civilians have been referred to military tribunals.
Under pressure from protesters and rights groups -- his mother had begun a hunger strike -- the SCAF finally referred Abdel-Fattah to an Emergency State Security Court. His case was then passed to the prosecutor-general office, after which Judge Tharwat Hamad ordered his release pending further investigation into the Maspero clashes.
Still wearing prison clothes, Abdel-Fattah headed immediately to Tahrir Square following his release where he was received rapturously by protesters. "Nothing has changed, the military has to go," he told his supporters. "The real culprits who killed the people in Maspero are still at large. The revolution will succeed when the killers are held accountable and gas cylinders are sold for LE5."
The crowd responded by chanting "Down with military rule," as Abdel-Fattah held Khaled, the son born during Abdel-Fattah's detention. The activist's first child was named after Khaled Said, the Alexandrian who was beaten to death in the street in 2010 by policemen and whose murder triggered nationwide protests.
"SCAF is the counter-revolution and that's why it has to step down," Abdel-Fattah continued.
"It is not only Tahrir Square that tells the story of the revolution. It is the sum of the people's anger, manifested in their revolt against polluting factories in Damietta, the selling of a gas cylinder for LE50 instead of its subsidised price of LE5, in workers' protests demanding better living conditions. This is the real revolution."
Following the release of her son Abdel-Fattah's mother made a plea on behalf of those still being handed military sentences while Mona, his sister, urged that the hype surrounding his release not be allowed to obscure "the thousands of unknown prisoners still detained by the military".
Abdel-Fattah's high profile is in part a result of his family. His father, Ahmed Seif El-Islam, is a human rights lawyer who was arrested in 1983 by state security, tortured and imprisoned for five years. He is now director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre. His mother, Laila Sweif, is a Cairo University professor and well known political activist. His aunt, Ahdaf Sweif, is an internationally acclaimed novelist and political commentator. His younger sister, Mona, is a co-founder of the No to Military Trials campaign. His wife Manal is a political blogger and his father-in-law Bahieddin Hassan heads the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies.
In 2004 Abdel-Fattah and his wife began voicing their political opinions on the blog which a year later won a Reporters without Borders Award.
Abdel-Fattah's release followed the setting free of 27 Maspero defendants on 15 December pending further investigation. On Monday SCAF ordered the suspension of military sentences against 90 civilians.
This is not the first time Abdel-Fattah has faced imprisonment. In May 2006 he was detained for 45 days after participating in a peaceful protest calling for judicial independence. In 2008 he and his wife left for South Africa to begin a business. They returned to Egypt following the outbreak of the revolution.

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