riyada in arabic means "training" or "discipline". It was used by the arabs in relation to horse taming. Sufis refer to their discipline as "riyadat an-nafs": disciplining the soul / training the ego. Today, the word riyada has come to mean "sports". There is an Arabic proverb that says: "The purpose of sports (riyada) is not to win cups, but to discipline the soul". This blog is here to help me discipline my soul and train my body.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why the Caged Bird Sings

Egyptian prisons are a horrible thing, more horrible than you can ever imagine. And I don't mean the normal prisons for criminals, I mean the prisons for suspected terrorists or members of political opposition parties, or any group that threatens the dictatorship of Mubarak. I heard a man describe these places once.. He was claims he became one of the leaders of a large underground Christian movement in Egypt. Mubarak doesn't like religious movements, whether Christian or Muslim. He doesn't like Muslim groups because they threaten his position in power, and he doesn't like Christian movements because they upset the peace and the status quo. So what are such prisons like? In them, every international law is violated, and torture is an art. The Egyptian authorities are so worried about any part of their system being exposed that even the jailers and policemen and torturers in these prisons never use names. They all have numbers by which they call themselves. That way, it is impossible for any prisoner to identify anyone involved. The prisoner described how he was put naked in a room, and had two vicious dogs unleashed on him (until he was saved by a miracle of Jesus). That was what he said, but it was on a Christian televangelist show in Canada, and I dont know how much of the story to trust.


Anyway, today I was in tahreer square, and 6 large trucks full of prisoners passed by. From these trucks, we heard the sound of hundreds of prisoners, all chanting in unison. It was unclear what they were saying, because at the front and the back of the trucks were police cars whose only purpose was to sound their sirens, in order to drown the voices of the prisoners. It was clear that the sirens had no other purpose. There police cars where not attempting to get ahead of other cars, nor did they want anyone to move out of the way. And I could see from the policemen in the cars and the expressions on their faces.. The sirens were at full blast for one reason only: to drown the chants of the prisoners.

I don't know what the prisoners were chanting, all in unison, from six different trucks. All I could hear was "...rasool Allah" ("...the Messenger of Allah"), and later, after many inaudible chants, "we are the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen": We are the Muslim Brothers (The Muslim Brotherhood).

Were they freshly picked up from a protest? A raid? Or where they being moved from one prison to another? No body knows, and I think that no body will ever know. Hundreds of such people are lost in the inner dungeons in Egypt, never to be heard of again. It felt for me like this was their only chance to say anything, to be heard.. the only chance for people to know that they even exist. Being moved from one pit of darkness into another, no one might ever hear from them again. They might just dissapear. I felt like that might be their one last trip in the sunlight, the only time other people might hear what they have to say, might know of their existence. And so they chanted, and they shouted as loud as they can... they chanted in unison, trying to get some message across, trying to raise their voices above the sounds of the police sirens. But ultimately, their voices were drowned. I could hear nothing of what they were trying to say, except that they were of the Muslim Brotherhood. As for their fate, and why they were imprisoned, I doubt anyone got to hear it, and I doubt anyone ever will. Maybe they've been plunged back into the deep dark abyss, into living non-existence.

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