O Youth, today is your day so shout
No more slumber or deep sleep
This is your time and your place
Bestow on us your talents and efforts
We want Egypt's youth to hold fast
As they resist the aggressor and outsider
Egyptian Poet Ibrahim Nagi (1898-1953)
On June 6, 2010, soft-spoken businessman Khaled Said, 28, had his dinner before retreating to his room and embarking on his daily routine of surfing the Internet, blogging, and chatting with his friends on different social websites. Several days earlier, he had posted a seven-minute online video of Alexandria police officers dividing up confiscated drugs among themselves.
When his Internet service suddenly was disrupted that evening, he left his middle-class apartment in the coastal city of Alexandria and headed to his neighborhood Internet cafe. As he resumed blogging, two plain-clothes secret police officers demanded that he be searched. When he inquired as to why or on whose authority, they scoffed at him while blurting out: emergency law. He refused to be touched and demanded to see a uniformed officer or be taken to a police station.
According to eyewitnesses, within minutes they dragged him to a nearby vacant building and began to severely beat up his tiny body, eventually smashing his head on a marble tabletop. His body was subsequently dumped in the street to be retrieved later by an ambulance that declared him dead. According to his mother, Leila Marzouq, his body was totally bruised, teeth broken, and skull fractured.
Immediately, the Interior Ministry started the cover-up campaign. The official report claimed that Said was a drug dealer who tried to escape arrest. They claimed that when he was busted he died by asphyxia as he tried to swallow the narcotics. The authorities backed up this incredible account with two medical reports from the state's medical examiner. The government print and TV media recycled the official version by painting the reclusive and shy blogger as a reckless drug addict and dealer.
However, when graphic images of Said's body began to circulate online, other political bloggers and human rights activists were enraged and the nascent youth movement to rescind the 29-year old emergency law started to transform itself from online group discussions to popular protests in the streets of Alexandria, which were predictably met with more police repression and brutality.
Since he became president in 1981, Hosni Mubarak has been utilizing the emergency law as a club to beat down political activity and civil liberties, as well as a means to sanction abuse and torture. According to human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Egyptian human rights groups, no less than 30,000 Egyptians have been imprisoned under the law, which allows the police to arrest people without charge, permits the government to ban political organizations, and makes it illegal for more than five people to gather without a permit from the government.
Even the U.S. government confirmed the regime's atrocious record when the 2009 State Department Human Rights Report submitted to Congress in March 2010 stated, "Police, security personnel, and prison guards often tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, sometimes in cases of detentions under the Emergency Law, which authorizes incommunicado detention indefinitely."
Said's case is hardly unique. A recent report published by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights documented 46 torture cases and 17 cases of death by government secret police between June 2008 and February 2009.
Since his murder, the case of Khaled Said has become the cause celÃ¨bre for Egypt's youth. Hundreds of thousands of young people across Egypt have watched related online videos, songs, raps, sketches, or participated in group chat room discussions. A simple Google search of his name yields millions of results, almost all anti-government.
One of the groups that embraced this cause was the April 6 Youth Movement. It started as an Egyptian Facebook group founded by Human Resources specialist Isra'a Abdel Fattah, 29, and civil engineer Ahmed Maher, 30, in spring 2008 to support the April 6 workers strike in el-Mahalla el-Kobra, an industrial town along the Nile Delta.
On their Facebook page, they encouraged thousands to protest and join the labor strike. Within weeks, over 100,000 members joined the group, who were predominantly young, educated, and politically inexperienced or inactive. Moreover, by making extensive use of online networking tools, they urged their members to demonstrate their support for the workers by wearing black, staying at home, or boycotting products on the day of the strike.
As the secret police cracked down on the April 6 labor strikers, both Abdel Fattah and Maher were arrested, tortured (in the case of Maher, threatened with rape), and detained for a few weeks. Both came out of the prison experience more committed to the cause of freedom and democracy, as well as more determined than ever to carry on with their program of political reforms.
Asma'a Mahfouz, 26, a petite Business Administration graduate, is another prominent figure in the April 6 Youth Movement. By her account she did not have any political training or ideology before joining the group in March 2008. With her two colleagues she immediately helped set up the Facebook page urging Egyptians to support and join the strikes.
More significantly, Mahfouz played a critical role in the mobilization efforts for the current popular revolution. She posted passionate daily online videos imploring her countrymen and women to participate in the protests. In a recent interview, she elucidated her role when she stated, "I was printing and distributing leaflets in popular areas, and calling for citizens to participate. In those areas, I also talked to young people about their rights, and the need for their participation."
She continued, "At the time when many people were setting themselves on fire, I went into Tahrir Square with several members of the movement, and we tried a spontaneous demonstration to protest against the recurrence of these incidents. However, the security forces prevented us and removed us from the Square. This prompted me to film a video clip, featuring my voice and image, calling for a protest."