(Photo © Madmusell Leni / flickr)
On the morning of May 1, 2016, I was on my way to Morocco to participate in a regional forum on transitional justice. It was organized May 1-6 by the International Center for Transitional Justice.
I was supposed to fly on Royal Air Maroc 0273 at 6:45 am from Cairo, but at passport control after they stamped by passport I was surprised by the officer’s request that I wait for a few moments.
He introduced me to a uniformed senior officer who asked me why I was headed to Morocco. A few moments later a security official came along and escorted me to an underground area in the airport.
When I asked where we were headed, he said the office of homeland security.
I was met by an official in civilian clothes. After I verified his identity, I saw a holding room. Inside were people of different nationalities. He asked me personal questions about my work and human rights activities and the nature of the conference I was to attend.
I was asked to wait outside for several minutes. The minutes became three-and-a-half hours.
During this time I got numerous contradictory instructions from security staff. One confirmed I could leave, another said I could not. I was surprised when at one point they asked me to take back my suitcase. They also carried out a full search.
I happened to see one note which requested the officers conduct a search to verify if I was carrying training materials or anything that could damage state security internally or externally. Of course they didn’t find anything other than my clothes.
They asked me for my phone number.
They confiscated my passport and, after that, they saw me off the airport premises.
They refused to tell me why I was prevented from leaving or to explain why my passport was taken. They told me I need to go to the homeland security office in al-Daqhaliyah on May 5, where I live, in order to receive back.
I did not receive my passport on May 5.
This was just to wear me down. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I plan on filing a complaint to the prosecutor general about this incident, because there was no legal reason for it. Furthermore, I will appeal to the administrate appeals court to mount a challenge.
I was meant to travel overseas next week but now I can’t, even though I have a visa and plane ticket.
In 2016, after the great revolution, I would have expected the country would help us with campaigns for equality and freedom of speech.
Someone who cannot express themselves is like a mute. They see corruption and they can’t deter it. They witness the daily violation of their rights and they can’t prevent it. They view themselves as judged by oppressive laws, and they cannot escape.
All of this turns the individual into a chattel and the country into nothing more than an oppressor. There’s no real life here. No progress. No reform. No development.
Someone whose freedom of movement has been taken away lives in a dark cell with a tiny window through which they can only see a shaft of light and tiny portion of the sky through which they cannot fly.
They fly in the cell as a desperate creature, with their soul destroyed. They hang between the land, which they cannot touch, and the sky which they cannot reach.
Reda El-Danbouki is an Egyptian women’s rights lawyer who secured the country’s first ever conviction for female genital mutilation. He heads the Women's Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness.