On Friday, the 12th of June, I attended a protest being held in Sandton outside the AU summit, advocating for the immediate release of South African citizen Sheikh Abdul Salam Jad Bassiouni, currently being held without charge in Egypt’s infamous Torah prison. I attended the march in solidarity with a man who has had a grave injustice been levelled against him, a man who represents hundreds of thousands of innocent Egyptians who face the same predicament as he does. Prior to the protest I had read in excess of ten articles, one of which was written by myself, describing Sheikh Bassiouni and the work he did. Well respected leader, teacher, dedicated humanitarian… these were all words I had not become unaccustomed to associating with him. However, the sheer magnitude of what a huge impact he had on so many peoples’ lives only became apparent to me at the protest. Droves of people stood in the streets chanting, singing and marching for hours, with a passion that could only be driven by a man who had evidently dedicated his life to uplifting the lives of others. Their true intensity spoke volumes about the character of Sheikh Bassiouni, and I watched in awe.
The aim of Friday’s protest was to appeal to the AU, as well as our government, to take a stand against the tyranny that is currently ruling Egypt, and to bring Sheikh Bassiouni home. It was a victory for those in the pursuit of justice when Sisi, the current dictator and coup leader of Egypt, cancelled his travelling plans to South Africa amidst the possibility of him being arrested. Sisi is the product of the “new” revolution- the call for which was made just 2 months after Muhammad Morsi leading the Muslim Brotherhood was democratically elected into power. Morsi’s nationwide popularity rating was at 70% when the world witnessed the culmination of efforts by the numerous counter-revolutionary groups and the Western-backed military coup. Today, Muslim Brotherhood offices have been set ablaze or destroyed, members of the Brotherhood have been killed or burned alive, with many others being subject to systemic violence and anyone who dares raise an objection to the authoritarian Sisi is faced with brutality which outshines even that of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
I remember my trip to Gaza one and half years ago, where we entered via the Rafah border. Everywhere around, from Giza to Cairo to Al-Arish, the heavy hand the military was playing in controlling the everyday lives of the Egyptian people was evident. And their displeasure at such tyranny was signalled in the tense atmosphere we constantly experienced. The effects of military rule do not only negatively affect the Egyptian citizens, however, and the closure and restrictions placed on the Rafah border impacts the Gazan people every day. The Egyptian military is just as guilty as the Israelis for the siege on the people of Gaza-closing the border arbitrarily and sometimes, indefinitely, without any consideration of the strangulation of the 1, 8 million strong population trying to survive. Getting in to Gaza was a series of rejections from army clad Egyptian youth hardly out of high school, who ordered us around with stubborn and abominable attitudes. Getting out of Gaza was just as great of an obstacle, with our humanitarian group being denied access to come back home indeterminately. Eventually, the border was opened especially for us, with huge help from the Department of International Relations and Co-operation. I implore DIRCO to shrug off the shroud of cowardice once again and take a stand against injustice in helping to bring Sheikh Bassiouni home.
While I was rushing to join the other protestors on Friday, I was stopped on the way by two curious bystanders who wanted to know what all the commotion was about. Trying my best to simplify a very complex situation, I replied, “We’re here to protest against the current leader of Egypt, who took over by force and rules the country by subjugated military power. His regime has imprisoned a South African citizen who had dedicated his life to helping the impoverished of our country; there are no charges against him and he has lost all his basic human rights in ans Egyptian jail!”. They looked at me in bewilderment, most likely at the fact that such heinous crimes are still taking place in 2015, and replied, “Go to your protest. He MUST be freed!” Indeed, Sheikh Bassiouni must be freed.
Aayesha J Soni is a medical doctor, qualified from the University of the Witwatersrand. Her passion is combatting injustice globally, and her particular focus of challenging the growing trend of Islamophobia is done through her various written and oral critiques.