The word “bravery” is pranced around way too frequently these days, but a young Arab, in a country struggling to free itself from the yoke of tyranny – who defiantly promotes the causes of democracy, tolerance and peace between Arabs and Israelis deserves such recognition.
Liberal Egyptian blogger, human rights dissident, and peace advocate Maikel Nabil spent over 302 days in prison for criticizing the Egyptian Military after it took power in early 2011. Before he was released on Jan. 24, 2012 – after a “Free Maikel” Twitter campaign captured the support of millions worldwide, and after his 130-day hunger strike – Nabil was subjected to beatings, torture and other cruel forms of abuse.
I met Nabil, one of the genuine heroes of Tahir Square, briefly today in Jerusalem while he was on a peace tour of the Jewish state – where he’s delivering lectures, meeting with leading public figures and peace activists, and visiting the disputed territories – and it was clear while speaking to him that he’s as passionately patriotic towards Egypt as he is sincere in his benevolence towards both Palestinians and Israelis.
Nabil believes there is a much greater degree of goodwill on behalf of Egyptians towards Israelis than what the media is reporting, and it would be fair to characterize his trip to Israel and the territories (sponsored by UN Watch) as a genuine “peace mission” aimed at dispelling myths about both Egyptians and Israelis – all of which makes the disruption of his speech at Hebrew University yesterday, by “pro-Palestinian activists” almost inexplicable.
Israelis who advocate on behalf of Palestinians – either Arabs or Jews – should, it seems, be heartened by a genuine human rights activist who’s working to bring about a peaceful, democratic Middle East where the rights of all in the region are respected.
However, undeterred by such criticism, Nabil is remarkably optimistic.
Nabil believes that the Muslim Brotherhood-led government is indeed a step backwards for Egyptian democracy (and for Egyptian-Israeli relations), but he expressed confidence that the truly liberal values of the revolution will ultimately prevail.
“It might take 3 or 4 years”, he told me, but a democratic Egypt which respects the human rights of all its citizens, secular and religious, will, he fervently believes, eventually emerge.
In one blog post, written while he was in prison, Nabil reiterated his refusal to engage with the military’s interrogators, and – evoking the courageous resistance of Natan Sharansky during his imprisonment in the Soviet gulags vividly described in ‘Fear No Evil‘ – wrote “I don’t beg for my freedom from a group of killers and homeland-stealers.” He added:
The military council is the one that has to apologize for my imprisonment, my torture, silencing my mouth, spying on my life, my relatives and my friends,” he wrote. “The military council is the one that has to apologize [for] its crimes of killing, torturing and unlawful prosecutions.
Finally, I’d highly recommend reading Nabil’s blog post about Israel, also written while in an Egyptian prison, titled “Why am I pro-Israel“, which provides a fascinating insight into the mind of the truly liberal activist, and should offer a glimmer of hope even to the most cynical among us.