One of the father figures of Egyptian social activism, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, died on Wednesday aged 63. He had been in coma for several days following heart surgery.
A leading human rights lawyer whose career spanned four decades, Seif el-Islam worked on several of “the most important human rights-related cases in the country”, according to Amnesty International. A tireless opponent of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, Seif el-Islam defended Karim Amer, the first Egyptian blogger to be tried for his writings on the internet. He also fought for dozens of protesters arrested during Egypt‘s 2008 workers’ strikes, a set of demonstrations that set the seeds for the 2011 revolution that eventually toppled Mubarak.
A leftist himself, Seif el-Islam represented people of all backgrounds, saying he was guided by the principle: “All that violates human dignity is an abuse to human rights.” In 2004, he fought for 15 men allegedly tortured while in detention on accusations of terrorism. Three years earlier, he assisted in the defence of 52 men on trial for their alleged sexual persuasions, in the notorious Queen Boat case in 2001.
But Seif el-Islam’s most personal cases may also have been his last. He was both father and lawyer to his son Alaa Abdel Fatah – a leading activist jailed this spring for allegedly organising a protest – and daughter Sanaa, another activist jailed this summer for protesting against her brother Alaa’s sentence. Neither could be at their father’s deathbed, though they were allowed to visit him last week.
Seif el-Islam himself spent time inside Egypt’s jails – for several years during the 80s for his political activism, and for a few days during the 2011 revolution, when he was arrested from his office and later interrogated in prison by the man who would later inherit Mubarak’s authoritarian crown: new President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. In an exchange that typified Seif el-Islam’s attitude to authority, he answered back, prompting Sisi to lose his cool. “He became angry, his face became red,” Seif el-Islam later remembered to the Guardian. “He acted as if every citizen would accept his point and no one would reject it in public. When he was rejected in public, he lost it.”
Earlier this year, at an event to publicise Alaa’s treatment, Seif addressed his absent son: “I wanted you to inherit a democratic society that guards your rights, my son, but instead I passed on the prison cell that held me, and now holds you.”
A member of a family of activists, Seif el-Islam is survived by Sanaa, Alaa, his wife Laila Soueif, a university professor, and his second daughter Mona Seif, another prominent rights defender. His sister-in-law is the novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
Source : theguardian