Running for freedom: Mahienour al-Massry

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A court in Egypt today is hearing the appeal of Mahienour al-Massry, lawyer, Revolutionary Socialist, and award-winning human rights activist. She was brought to court in a cage and seated between two policemen (above). Mahienour is on charge for having protested outside a court in Alexandria last December. While she was protesting outside the court, the police officers charged with the brutal beating and murder of blogger Khaled Said were on trial inside.

Under Egypt’s unique combination of military and civilian law protests without police permission are unlawful. Mahienour’s punishment, which she is appealing, was a two-year jail term.

Mahienour is a well-known figure in Alexandria, where she has been at the forefront of a dozen local campaigns: in support of strikes, against sexual violence, for housing for the poor, against corruption, military trials, for the right to public space, for land reclamation, against climate change, for Syrian refugees. A recent article by Mahienour’s friend Amro Ali recalls one characteristic moment in an unusually rich, activist life:

It was June 2010, and for the first time activists in Alexandria were demonstrating in public in memory of Khaled Said. The protest was being held at Cleopatra Hamamat train station; and at its start there were only 20 people there. In Egypt, security forces have a habit of isolating small protests behind high portable fences, hiding the demonstrators from the public, as a prelude to arresting them. Mahienour could see that she and her activists were on the verge of being trapped.

Mahienour took the initiative, and ran out of the kettle, holding a megaphone and shouting slogans in memory of Said. As she escaped, others followed her, and she was joined by demonstrators arriving at the scene late. Together, they ran through the streets of central Alexandria, calling on residents and local workers to join them. At first they were 20 people, then 50, one hundred, and finally 300 people. It was now the biggest protest Alexandria had seen for several years.

The security forces attempted to follow, but could not prevent the protesters from running into and occupying Medhat Seif al-Yazal Khalifa Street, where Khlaed Said had died earlier that very month. A week later there were 1000 people. By January 2011, it was the police who were fleeing from the demonstrators.

Mahienour would continue to play a prominent role in protests in Alexandria through the whole revolution.

Mahienour appeal has now been adjourned with a verdict due on 20 July. The next time you run, spare a thought for Mahienour.

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