Undaunted by my death sentence

Tahrir Square protests

Tahrir Square during the protests in February 2011 (source: Wikimedia)

I received with total disbelief the news that on May 16 an Egyptian court had sentenced me to death — along with former president Mohamed Morsi, a number of his aides and several respected public figures, including renowned scholar Emad Shahin. The charges in my case, like Morsi’s, are false and entirely political. The world knows by now the nature of the Egyptian regime’s kangaroo trials of political opponents, which international human rights organizations describe as a “charade” lacking due process and violating Egyptian and international law.

On Jan. 25, 2011, like millions of other young Egyptians, I participated in demonstrations against then-President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime, which entrenched corruption and injustice in Egypt for more than three decades. We camped in Tahrir Square, chanted for freedom and social justice and demanded the removal of the only president most of us had known. Our first enemy was, and still is, tyranny and despotism in all its forms. After the fall of the Mubarak regime, I was inspired by the level of political activism, patriotism and national pride that united all of us despite our political differences and affiliations. I was filled with hope for a better life, and I dreamed of going to the ballot box knowing that my vote would count, like most people in democratic countries.

I belong to a school of moderate mainstream Islam that believes there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy. In fact, Islam stands firmly against injustice, violation of human rights and oppression, especially oppression of women. I have always believed in democracy and peaceful change, and I have defended the human rights of all people. Therefore, I volunteered in Morsi’s campaign as a coordinator to communicate with foreign media, and I was appointed to the same position in the president’s office after he was elected president in a free and fair vote. This was the only time we Egyptians were able to participate in such elections, and it was an incredibly empowering moment.

Then came the military coup of July 3, 2013. I did not imagine that my support for democracy and my service in the administration of Egypt’s first democratically elected president would land me in jail or be used against me as a crime warranting the death penalty.

Now I find myself being prosecuted for everything I aspired to and worked for, and for advancing the same values that so many of my fellow Egyptians — of all political affiliations — fought and died for.

Though I was sentenced in the so-called Grand Espionage case, the Egyptian regime seeks to end my life for no reason other than who I am: an educated, politically active and independent woman with mainstream Islamic views. I have traveled extensively around the world, utilized my education and training to reach out to people from different cultures and religions, built ideological bridges and engaged in dialogue with others — for example, as a fellow of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations — and this has earned me the dubious honor of being the first woman in modern Egyptian history to be sentenced to death for political reasons. Clearly, I am from the generation of young Egyptians — women and men, liberals, conservatives and leftists, Muslims, Christians and atheists — that the regime fears as its No. 1 enemy because we represent the future and a hope for change.

It wants to kill the dream of democracy and freedom in the hearts of Egypt’s young people. It does not want the world to know the truth about what is happening in Egypt. But it will not prevail. Something has changed in the collective consciousness of the Egyptian people. Even if the regime executes thousands, Egyptian youth have a lot more to give. The day will soon come when this country will be ruled with justice and equality.

Thankfully, unlike the tens of thousands of innocent Egyptians suffering in jails, or those being tortured, killed on the streets or hanged, I am outside the country pursuing a graduate degree in public policy in Britain. I have decided to take an independent academic and professional path to get the experience and skills that will enable me to serve my homeland, Egypt, the country where I grew up and that I cherish.

Although it breaks my heart to be separated from my family, friends and loved ones, the unjust sentence will not break my will and resolve. On the contrary, it will give me strength to keep defending the principles of the Egyptian revolution and values I and most Egyptians believe in and aspire to: dignity, freedom and justice.

This piece first appeared in the Washington Post on May 22, 2015.

Sondos Asem, who was foreign press secretary under former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, is an independent researcher and currently studying for an MPP at the Blavatnik School of Government.

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