Me, the Authority and My Mother


The hug after leaving prison is different from the hug upon entering. The latter is the unity of bodies that resisted, whereas the first is the unity of bodies that are lost and unsure of how and why to resist.

This is a story that, in some ways, is deeply personal and, in others, is profoundly impersonal. 

It is an attempt to describe some of the scenes that happened to me in recent years. My mother and I are the main protagonists, as well as “the authority” that encircled us. That is: it was in between, before, and behind us. I single out my mother, because she is the main heroine in this story. 

I always used to refrain from writing about myself, even though most of my articles, papers and literary texts, including my short novel Swaying Bodies, are about my experience in prison. But I never said it was my experience. I claimed it was our experience, our bodies. 

Everything I wrote and published was right in front of me. It was my personal observation of the practice of repression on prisoners in Egypt, which motivated me to explore and analyze what was behind it. I wrote about prison, body and authority without ever saying: “That’s me.” 

Yet, the research and analysis is all about me. I am the practice; the repression was practiced on me. I was the prisoner, the deported, the exiled, the hunted, the poor, the wounded, the consumer, the consumed, and so on. I was the one subjected to the authority’s tools, and I was using my tools to fight back.

I always felt I failed to adequately describe my anguish and thought better to talk about others. Or, to be more precise, for the reader not to realize my writing is about my suffering. Regarding my pain, I hate to appear “dramatic.” I hate sympathy, even if it is sympathy combined with love. It hurts me to appear frail. 

December 28, 2014 

Tears at the Start of my Prison Term

“Stay away from politics, it is none of our concern” and “They arrest everyone and we cannot endure such hassle and humiliation.” I was told this and similar things for months before being detained. I recalled them within minutes [after being detained] and they started to echo in my ear, carrying the picture of the person who uttered them: my mother. 

This happened during the interrogation in the early hours of my detention. The following day saw the encounter between me and her. I was dragged before the prosecutor and stood before her. Her eyes were tired and brimmed with tears, as she berated me for not staying away [from politics] and pitied my handcuffed body.

I hugged her. “Don’t be upset with me,” I said.  

That was my first hug in prison. Paradoxically, on the first and hardest day I experienced in my 735-day imprisonment. Although this meeting, this hug, and the many tears that flowed, were but a prelude to more to come.

It is a scene the authority created and watched through its men, the executors of its wishes, the ones responsible for imprisoning me and my family inside me, and further imprisoning me through their suffering, as I remained behind bars.

January 2, 2017 

Tears at the End of Prison

My body was in the [same] office where I was first interrogated at the start of my detention, as I waited for the national security officer to release me. I thought about my mother. 

“I got out, and I will not be arrested again,” I was going to tell her. And I would blame her, [jokingly] asking: “Why have you been crying for two years? Why did you make such a big deal out of it?” 

A few hours later, my body was in my relative’s car. As the wheels turned, I would see buildings and faces and hear voices, which had been withheld from me for two years. The street is my street. The house is my house. And my mother is waiting for me at the top of the stairs. 

In her worn-out face and gray hair I see a reply that says: “Yes, prison has made me old.”

I only notice that in the light of our living room, as if prison is indeed a darkness that prevents us from seeing the pain in our faces and the true extent of the exhaustion that swallows us and our families.

The hug after leaving prison is different from the hug upon entering. The latter is the unity of bodies that resisted, whereas the first is the unity of bodies that are lost and unsure of how and why to resist. 

October 25, 2019 

In the Nowhere

When I left, I told my brother: “Don’t tell her, so she won’t be scared. I’ll tell her when I come back.” 

But that never happened. Security at Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport denied me access to the country at the time under the pretext that I was barred from entering for a reason no one on or above the earth understands, except … the authority. I waited for hours in the airport to be sent back to Egypt.  

I did not know what to do. I was scared, anxious, and resilient. Again, I hate “tragedy.” Yet, I resisted entering the detention center for deportees, and I resisted being humiliated. Only Egyptians can humiliate me. This is one principle, which I (jokingly) never abandon, even under the most extreme circumstances. 

Meanwhile, my mom would be wondering. “Where is Ahmed? What is his problem? Will the authorities let him return safe and sound? He is all alone between two authorities. Will the prison tears return? Allah knows best.”

I did return to my homeland, surprisingly, without imprisonment. After the required formalities, the authority released me for my body to resume floating in the “orbit of security” until my next departure. The third hug from my mother was filled with warmth. It wanted to break the bones. And perhaps it did from over-yearning.

January 20, 2021 

I’ll Take You to the Train

“All right, let me accompany you to the train station,” my mother said as if I were a youngster traveling alone for the first time, while I am the one who always traveled between prisons, cities and countries. She said after returning from work, as she saw me packing my luggage. 

“I’m going to Cairo,” I said. “There’s been a wave of arrests here. I’m afraid. I’ll spend a few weeks with my friends and then return.” 

She responded with the sentence above. Naturally, I objected and made fun of her, as always. “Am I too young? So you have to take me to the station?” I would laugh, hug her, and leave. 

However, at the same time, I needed her by my side to soothe my spirit, trying to flee from this nightmare. So, we took a cab to the station, where we waited until the train left. 

I hugged her tightly and her peace would accompany me all the way. I came back a few weeks later. As usual, I got a hug upon my return. But this time it felt a bit halfhearted. 

My mum was, rightly, tired of me, and of the scenes of the authority and me, with her in the middle. As she stands with me, sometimes she saves me, sometimes she comforts me, while at other times … she just waits.

November 16, 2021 

Not the Last Hug

Despite the drama and tragic vocabulary, I am certain this will not be the last hug. Yes, it was a strange, repetitive hug, every time getting warmer and tighter. 

It took place in front of my city’s bus station. I was heading to Cairo. From Cairo, I would take a plane to another country. The reason for traveling was the same as for my earlier trip that did not succeed: getting away from the nightmare authority (and imprisonment). 

I told my friend to just drive me to the bus station and that I would stay with friends in Cairo. They would take me to the airport. It was the best solution. 

We arrived about a quarter of an hour prior to departure. We had some food and a cup of tea. As time passed, I lost the ability to hide the feeling of melancholy that came over me. My mother was not very good at it either. Her face was creased with sorrow. 

And yet, I did not give up. I recalled the many jokes and funny situations.  When she would say “You will go away, Ahmed” I used to respond by saying: “They will deport me [again], mom, I will be with you in the morning.” And I would chuckle, since all of my attempts to travel so far had ended in failure. 

Also, I would not get on the bus until a short while before leaving, so that my mother does not have to wait while the bus has not left yet. A recurring and final hug followed. And more than one photo, in which we try to smile unsuccessfully. Then I got on the bus and told her to go straight to work and not wait.

I sat down in my appointed seat, drank some water, looked around, and tried not to think about anything that might make me emotional. As the bus left the station and turned onto the street I could see the public images of the authority and its representatives, as if they were present to bid me farewell. 

This process [of leaving] took about ten minutes. As we headed for the road, I was surprised to see her. She had not left yet, but was sitting in a distant seat at the other gate to catch a last glimpse of the bus that concealed me and was gradually vanishing from view. I saw her but she did not see me.

At that moment, I saw her differently, and I was certain I was leaving her alone. My tears rained covertly on the window glass, as I knew that this time I probably would not be coming back. I mean, this time I would not be deported, and I would reach my destination. And that is indeed what happened. 

These are just some of the personal scenes that occurred. Some were simple. Others were hard. I present them here to the reader in order to express myself, and offer a representation of me, because my stories are their stories in another place and time, with different names and different bodies.

لتصلكم نشرة درج الى بريدكم الالكتروني