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490 Days of Hunger: An audience with Mohamed Soltan

Mohamed Soltan, who went on a 490 day hunger strike in protest against being illegally detained by the Egyptian military for campaigning for freedom, last night awed an audience gathered at London’s Imperial College.

“A lot of people say you don’t seem vengeful, as I thought of nonviolent resistance I was taking out that negative energy on myself so I don’t harm people. It’s a natural reaction to all of the oppression we see,” Soltan said in a room full of people, many of whom campaigned for his release following his arrest in September 2013.

“I am living, breathing proof that nonviolent resistance works,” he said, advocating mass mobilisation for the greater good.

For her part, the general spokesperson for the April 6 Youth Movement, Sawsan Gharib, discussed how her organisation has been silenced as a result of the coup, which has led to the imprisonment of three of the movement’s founders.

Gharib emphasised that a large part of what the Egyptian authorities are now doing is curtailing freedom of speech and assembly. She went on to describe living in a state of constant paranoia after being made aware the oppression being enforced, and how people eventually given to measures. She said people accept the measures, not only because of President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi’s hold on the media which broadcasts his messages to the masses, but also through his policies which monopolise the politics of popular culture where celebrities endorse absolute military rule as a mechanism of brainwashing the masses.

Gharib drew parallels between the Sisi era and the Abdel Nasser era during which similar propaganda schemes were used and an absolute hold on freedom took place through military rule. She reminded the audience that this is not a conflict where it’s the Muslim Brotherhood versus military rule; it is an attack on freedom. Anyone who shows discontent is at risk, regardless of their political or religious background.

Fellow panellist, Chair of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council Dr Maha Azzam stressed the fact that one of the main reasons Egypt is able to crackdown on civilians in the way it has is because Al-Sisi is given international legitimacy.

She stressed that that international governments should not only publicly condemn Al-Sisi, but also to take steps to delegitimise him on a world stage to make it clear that his constant violations of international law will not be tolerated and he cannot get away with them.

The event was chaired by Reprieve, a non government organisation that seeks to campaign for the rights and provide legal support to those who have unfairly been stripped of their rights.

The panellists agreed that everyone present must take personal steps to ensure the Sisi regime does not get away with its actions, and should take steps to raise awareness of the cruel nature of the government now ruling Egypt.

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