Meet Egyptian peace activist Maikel Nabil: Pro-democracy, pro-Palestinian & pro-Israel

The word “bravery” is pranced around way too frequently these days, but a young Arab, in a country struggling to free itself from the yoke of tyranny – who defiantly promotes the causes of democracy, tolerance and peace between Arabs and Israelis deserves such recognition. 

Liberal Egyptian blogger, human rights dissident, and peace advocate Maikel Nabil spent over 302 days in prison for criticizing the Egyptian Military after it took power in early 2011. Before he was released on Jan. 24, 2012 – after a “Free Maikel” Twitter campaign captured the support of millions worldwide, and after his 130-day hunger strike – Nabil was subjected to beatings, torture and other cruel forms of abuse.

I met Nabil, one of the genuine heroes of Tahir Square, briefly today in Jerusalem while he was on a peace tour of the Jewish state – where he’s delivering lectures, meeting with leading public figures and peace activists, and visiting the Palestinian territories – and it was clear while speaking to him that he’s as passionately patriotic towards Egypt as he is sincere in his benevolence towards both Palestinians and Israelis.  

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Nabil today in Jerusalem

Nabil believes there is a much greater degree of goodwill on behalf of Egyptians towards Israelis than what the media is reporting, and it would be fair to characterize his trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories (sponsored by UN Watch) as a genuine “peace mission” aimed at dispelling myths about both Egyptians and Israelis – all of which makes the disruption of his speech at Hebrew University yesterday, by “pro-Palestinian activists” almost inexplicable.

Israelis who advocate on behalf of Palestinians – either Arabs or Jews – should, it seems, be heartened by a genuine human rights activist who’s working to bring about a peaceful, democratic Middle East where the rights of all in the region are respected.

However, undeterred by such criticism, Nabil is remarkably optimistic.

Nabil believes that the Muslim Brotherhood-led government is indeed a step backwards for Egyptian democracy (and for Egyptian-Israeli relations), but he expressed confidence that the truly liberal values of the revolution will ultimately prevail.

“It might take 3 or 4 years”, he told me, but a democratic Egypt which respects the human rights of all its citizens, secular and religious, will, he fervently believes, eventually emerge.

In one blog post, written while he was in prison, Nabil reiterated his refusal to engage with the military’s interrogators, and – evoking the courageous resistance of Natan Sharansky during his imprisonment in the Soviet gulags vividly described in ‘Fear No Evil‘ – wrote “I don’t beg for my freedom from a group of killers and homeland-stealers.” He added:

The military council is the one that has to apologise for my imprisonment, my torture, silencing my mouth, spying on my life, my relatives and my friends,” he wrote. “The military council is the one that has to apologise [for] its crimes of killing, torturing and unlawful prosecutions.

Finally, I’d highly recommend reading Nabil’s blog post about Israel, also written while in an Egyptian prison, titled “Why am I pro-Israel“, which provides a fascinating insight into the mind of the truly liberal activist, and should offer a glimmer of hope even to the most cynical among us.

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Gaza flotilla “Peace Activist” Ken O’Keefe speculates on whether Jews as a group are a threat to human decency

Our good friend Chas Newkey-Burden at OyVaGoy has posted a video that is simply chilling.

The clip is taken from a PressTV interview with Ken O’Keefe – one of the “activists” on board the MV Mavi Marmara in late May.

Most of those who attacked IDF forces that day belong to Islamist terrorist organizations, and the American born O’Keefe is no exception – having been identified by the IDF as a Hamas Operative.

With all we know about the flotilla participants’ known terrorist affiliations, those who persist in referring to them as “peace activists” (or “progressives”) are engaged in the kind of Orwellian double-think that Natan Sharansky referred to in his memoirs when characterizing his fellow countrymen who actually believed the Soviet propaganda being fed to them.

Such people, noted Sharansky, excelled at being able to hold, and reconcile, two diametrically opposed ideas in their head at the same time without the slightest cognitive dissonance.

Note the nod of agreement from the PressTV interviewer as O’Keefe “speculates” on whether Jews are indeed a threat to everything that’s good and decent in the world.

Natan Sharansky and the courage to resist tyranny

Though I’m married to a religious Jew, and now live my life largely consistent with Jewish tradition, I’ve spent much of my life as a secular Jew.  Either way, I think that there is a general connection between  a particular identity – whether it be ethnic, religious, cultural, etc. – and the willingness to make sacrifices necessarily to defend values such as freedom and democracy, even in a secular state.

I was thinking about this while reading Natan Sharansky’s newest book, Defending Identity. I’ve read his inspiring autobiography, Fear No Evil, and, more recently, have read, The Case for Democracy.  In his latter book, he argues persuasively that the democratic values we all cherish can more vigorously be defended by citizens who possess strong individual identities, in addition to their more abstract identification with democratic values, as such.

On page 3, he says,

“Those who feel a connection to ideals and values beyond the individual self, who believe that they are participating in a grand collective adventure, and who are convinced that they are acting on behalf of past and future generations are prepared to make great individual sacrifices. This sense of purpose and meaning is what attracts so many to fundamentalism, not only in countries governed by fundamentalist groups but even among native-born Europeans. Without a similar strength of purpose and identity, the free world will not long be able to repel the assault against it.”

For Sharansky, who was both a human rights activist and Jewish Refusenik in the former Soviet Union, it was his connection to Judaism – its values, history, struggles, and aspirations – which provided him with the strength, courage, and perspective necessary to fight for human rights in a totalitarian state. For him, as for many courageous people throughout history, there was nothing more liberating than fighting for a cause greater than merely his own self-interest, a cause that encompassed him, but wasn’t defined by his existence alone.

Sharansky’s new identification with his Jewish heritage – in a state where religious belief of any kind was considered subversive and where most of the nation’s Jews were forced to leave such faith behind to be considered loyal Soviet citizens – helped him to endure nine years in a Soviet prison, as he saw his struggle against state tyranny in the context of the Jewish struggle for liberation from tyrants throughout history. Moreover, it was the universal values of Judaism that gave him the intellectual and moral strength to resist his interrogators and their cynical rhetorical tricks – that is, their frequent attempts to convince him of the truth of two inherently contradictory thoughts…what Sharansky refers to often in his book as (Orwellian) double-think.

While I’m not saying that secular people who don’t possess a strong particular identity can’t resist tyranny – and, indeed, this is part of a much larger discussion that could be had about secularism and democratic states – it is hard not to be moved when Sharansky, describing his Judaism in the context of his struggle to resist Soviet tyranny, says:

The fire of freedom that burned inside me was fueled by a passionate connection to my people, our common history and our shared destiny. When I crossed the line from doublethink to dissent, I suddenly discovered a new world. I was no longer an isolated Soviet citizen but part of a vibrant community with a long history of struggle and liberation – a history that had left great empires in its wake.”

Perhaps the significance of Sharansky’s insights aren’t completely apparent to many reading this blog.  However, as the citizen of a state threatened by state and non-state actors intent on our destruction – and by publications such as the Guardian who routinely advance narratives which aid and abet such reactionary movements – I’m continually concerned with the question of why certain people possess the courage and fortitude to resist such threats and why others engage in any number of rhetorical and intellectual contortions to avoid such confrontations.

For me and my wife, this isn’t some amorphous intellectual musing.  It’s truly a matter of life and death.