TORA, Egypt — In a few days’ time, I will complete 365 days of imprisonment, more than half spent in solitary confinement and under severe limitations in the maximum-security Scorpion wing of Tora prison in Cairo. I have spent the past year thinking about what drove me to where I am today. I have also been thinking about an explanation for why politicians, human rights activists and the media have largely been silent about my case.
I am an engineer by education and an educator by profession. After the Egyptian revolution in 2011, I became interested in politics. I joined the presidential campaign and then found myself chosen to be the foreign relations secretary to Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in July 2012.
When the military ousted Mr. Morsi’s government, it was predictable that the president and his aides would pay a heavy price. I made the decision, along with eight other staff members, to wait with the president for the moment of his arrest on July 3, 2013. On the orders of the newly appointed secretary of defense, the chief of the Republican Guard arrested Mr. Morsi along with the rest of us. I expected this. What I did not expect was the silence that followed our arrests.
Over the year of Mr. Morsi’s presidency, our government met with scores of world leaders, either through official visits or during international conferences. I attended almost every meeting as the president’s note-taker. We worked closely with Western leaders and their envoys to broker peace in the region.
In November 2012, we cooperated with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to successfully broker the cease-fire in Gaza. Syria and Mali, too, were regions where we wanted to foster peace, so we worked on an ambitious plan to achieve that.
We set out a human rights agenda for Egypt that was spearheaded by the president’s office and that invited the United Nations to open a headquarters for UN Women Egypt in Cairo. We recommended legislative reforms to advance a new Egypt, and we met with all the local and international stakeholders we could to develop that agenda.
Because of all this activity and these contacts, I have struggled to understand the silence of the international community over our arrests in July 2013. When the military ousted the Egyptian government, almost none of our international partners stood up for us. For most, it was as if we never existed. The silence was so thorough that I joked with my colleagues, “Do we really exist, or were we Photoshopped in?”
When Human Rights Watch released a statement in December that detailed our forcible disappearance, we felt alive again. But as a consequence, two of my senior colleagues — the president’s assistant and one of his advisers — found themselves accused, along with the president, without due process.
I was sent to a maximum-security prison with them under absurd accusations. This very article could result in retaliatory charges against me.
I am facing this treatment because of what I represent. I represent a worldview that is built on a genuine exchange and understanding between civilizations and cultures. I represent a generation that crossed borders, that lives in a truly global community, that resists control by undemocratic institutions.
I have lived on three continents: in Asia (my childhood was spent in the United Arab Emirates), in North America (I went to Canada for college and postgraduate studies), and in Africa (in Egypt, my home country). My wife is Canadian, and our four children are Canadian-Egyptian.
I am a Muslim who sees more common ground than disagreement with other faiths and cultures. I view Canada as a model of tolerance and multiculturalism. I see America and Europe as hubs of science and innovation — and as agents of world peace, with the proviso of a more principled foreign policy. I see Asia as a global competitor in scientific development with values that can enrich us all. I see the Middle East as the intersection of civilizations, a place where a stable peace could be a lasting monument to human interdependence and tolerance.
I believe that this century will be different from previous ones. Global citizens are destined to have a greater say and politicians will be held accountable to our voices. We must dream together.
Some dreams do come true. We toppled a dictator who had held power for 30 years after five people assembled in Tahrir Square and asked all Egyptians to join them on Jan. 25, 2011, under the banner of “Freedom, Justice and Dignity.” It was that movement that inspired me to work as a campaign volunteer in Egypt’s 2012 election.
Today, my dreams are haunted by this question: “My brothers and sisters in humanity, I know why the Egyptian military government demands my complete silence, but please answer me this: Why are you so silent about me?”
Khaled al-Qazzaz, the secretary on foreign relations from 2012 to 2013 in the government of President Mohamed Morsi, has been in extralegal detention since July. This article was smuggled from the prison where he is held.
New York Times