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Themes Why I Became a Dissident » Ahmed Samih

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Interviewed May 2011

Ahmed has extensive experience as an organizer and trainer in international programs for human rights education. He has served as a media adviser and director of media observation in a national campaign for monitoring elections in Egypt sponsored by USAID. He has also been a trainer for projects sponsored by the Norwegian Human Rights Fund, such as Supporting NGOs and Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion and Combating Propaganda for War. He is the founder of various organizations: Liberal Youth Seminar sponsored by New Civic Forum, Knowledge Club, and Free Youth Association sponsored by Al JEEL Center for Youth and Social Studies. Currently, Ahmed is the Director of the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies and the director of EGYPT 1st online internet radio. 

The whole thing started when I was 17 years old. I was listening-- a normal fan of Egyptian new hard rock bands. And suddenly a friend of mine called me. Says-- "Get rid of all your CDs. The national security is cracking down on people who is listening to hard rock." They called us in that time, “the slavers of Satan.” That was a totally fabricated case by the government media to cover-- to create something in the society.

Totally outrageous, totally from them all from them own imagination. And I discovered in one second that you live inside a regime, inside a system, inside a society [that] can intervene-- interfere in every single thing in your life, including the kind of music you listen to. And that was a big question mark for me. So I been, since that moment-- I start to think more and more about politics.

My father used to be a political activist in [the 1970s]. But he quit. He quit the whole country, actually. So I started to figure out his old connections to find some answers about what's going on. And in a very short time, I been very active in what you can call it the public life in Cairo. Which is people who totally exist in a system politically. And people who the old regime liked to call [the] opposition. And opposition groups in Cairo was-- if you have a title that you're opposition, this is a huge problem in a normal Egyptian society who don't think there is only one party and there is only one system. If you are not agreeing with them, this means that you will live in trouble.

I don't know if you-- if you know The Matrix the movie-- I choose to take the pill. Which is the pill who takes you directly to be against the machines. And that was a full decision I made by myself. And I've been fighting the machines. Everything in that movie was very close to my mind to my real life. Even Mr. Anderson, which is a security person who used to-- coming from everywhere to stop-- the liberation group to do the work. Mr. Anderson was there, it's true. Mr. Anderson can be in any shape. Can listen to a mobile and can hack on your internet services. And Mr. Anderson has the full power and Mr. Anderson has everything obeying for him. Everything around you-- everything except you.

I discovered a shield against Mr. Anderson. I discovered a shield against this kind of police surrounding you, police system trying to control your life, trying to put you away of any activities you think, they think, it's a real threat to the system. To the regime. And simply that was using transparency. That everything I'm doing, no matter they accept it or not, is public. Is known. And the main challenge here that you are using a chess technique, which is the most important thing that the other player, Mr. Anderson, the security services, however you will call them, know everything on the table but do not know what's your next step.

And that's a challenge because sometimes you have to move around move around with a team of people. And you're the only person who knows what's the next step exactly. So the next step can be something very normal, like going to meet with football fans. But the reality is quite different. The reality is football fans is also organized system somehow. And you go to the stadium, cheering with them. And start know them.

The reality is you are meeting with young people, you ask them hard questions but you don't give them the answers. And you're waiting till the people who's really had a mind challenge come to you again and try to figure out the answer to the questions. The challenge is when you go to the normal average Egyptians who are in the villages and discuss with them what the regime really affect-- how the regime is really affecting life and you discover that they don't accept what's going on around them. There is no specific way to measure how much things you been doing is successful or not, unless you see one or two or three or hundreds of these people with your entire square sleeping there against the system. And you see someone come to you directly, says, "One day you said to me this will change. I'm here today to change it with you." That's the moment you understand you've been doing something good. 

With a history dating back to the 10th millennium B.C., Egypt has long played a central role in the Middle East. Egypt is the largest Arab nation and has an influential voice in Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. Egypt has a diverse economy, but has struggled to create sustained economic growth and opportunities for its population of 84 million people.

The country has little experience with representative democracy. From 1956 to 1970, President Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled Egypt with a strong hand, nationalizing the Suez Canal and taking the country into conflict with the new state of Israel. Upon his death, Anwar al-Sadat became president. Together with other Arab nations, Sadat launched the October War against Israel in 1973. In 1979, Sadat signed a groundbreaking peace treaty with Israel.

From Sadat’s assassination in 1981 until the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Egypt was governed by President Hosni Mubarak. For all of Mubarak’s time in office, and for much of the time since his resignation, Egypt has been under “Emergency Law,” which allows the government to suspend constitutional rights, including limiting political activity and restricting free speech. Emergency Law also allows the government to use summary arrests against political opponents.

For four successive terms, Mubarak was reelected in referenda without an opponent. In 2005, under domestic and international pressure, Mubarak proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Egypt’s first multicandidate presidential elections. Because the amendment would have imposed severe restrictions on the eligibility of opposition candidates, opposition groups boycotted the vote. Mubarak claimed to have won the September 2005 presidential election with an official 88 percent of the vote, amid widespread allegations of fraud and vote rigging. The main opposition leader, Ayman Nour, was subsequently prosecuted by the government for forging signatures on petitions and was sentenced to five years in prison, provoking protests from the United States and other democratic countries.

Following the example of the Tunisian Revolution, large protests swept Egypt in early 2011. The military, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), withdrew its support of Mubarak. On February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi then assumed power in Egypt. SCAF dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution.

In November 2011, Egypt held parliamentary elections that were reportedly fair and democratic. In June 2012, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected President, in part because liberal and secular forces failed to coalesce around a single candidate. Morsi’s popularity declined as he declared his orders immune from challenge, removed judicial review processes, and was accused of taking steps towards the implementation of Islamist policies. Conflict arose between those supporting Islamist policies and those seeking a more liberal and secular government. Protests occurred throughout his presidency until Morsi was ousted by the military in July 2013. Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested and their camps and offices raided. Until new elections are held, a SCAF-installed provisional government led by acting President Adly Mansour is in control.

In its most recent report, the independent watchdog group Freedom House classifies Egypt as “partly free.” On its scale where 1 is the most free and 7is the least free, Egypt earned scores of 5 in both the civil liberties and political rights categories.


More on this theme from Ahmed Samih

Ahmed Samih: Becoming a Dissident On why he became a dissident.

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Ahmed Samih: Message to Dissidents "Maybe sometimes everything around you says you are not doing the right thing. Don't believe this. This is an illusion. Believe about what you're doing very carefully. And keep your head high and continue what you do." Ahmed Samih: The Role of Women The role of women in the Egyptian Revolution More +