An Activist Encounters Her File

Esraa Abdel Fattah

During the first week of March, some weeks after the fall of the House of Mubarak, hundreds of protesters stormed state security offices across the country in an inspired show of citizen force. At the Cairo headquarters in Nasr City they discovered luxurious offices, bedrooms, and even gyms awash in shredded paper, as well as underground prison cells and torture equipment. Many of those who entered the building discovered something nearly equally disturbing: their files. One of the more massive files belonged to Esraa Abdel Fattah, a small, veiled thirty-something activist who was quite shocked to discover that she posed an existential threat to the state. She examines her file with Yasmine El Rashidi.

This. [She gets out a book-thick stack of A4 papers wrapped in a nylon bag, stuffed in an inconspicuous canvas tote.]

Look. [Flips and reads to herself]

Look. [Shakes her head]

Look, my CV.

Look, a picture of me on the street.

I can’t believe it.

I mean, I know how ruthless the intelligence and state security are, but really — I really can’t believe it.

They have monitored all my calls.

June. Phone call with Basem, activist friend.

June. Phone call with Austrian entity.

June. My mother.

They had my email accounts and passwords listed. And look, all my emails going back so far! Here, my Yahoo account. And look, my password.

An email about work. An email not about work. An email about meeting friends, picking up dinner, buying a present. They know when I had ful and taameya for lunch. [Laughs] The sandwiches were laced with secret plans.

They were watching everything I was doing. Every step. Every call. Every SMS.

They describe me as some sort of femme fatale. “The threatening woman.” Me!

Look at me! Dangerous! Can you believe they described me as threatening?

It made me upset. But then, I found it amusing. Actually, I found it so amusing I couldn’t stop laughing. Ha ha ha. [Laughs to herself]

They documented my meetings with the very famous Islamic TV preacher Amr Khaled; do you know him? Look, I had two meetings with Amr Khaled, and in my meeting it outlines in great detail my pledge to support him as a presidential candidate and to help him on his quest to turn the country into an Islamic state. They think he is funded by foreign entities.

It also said that I met with a woman called Magda, who is also close to Amr Khaled. We were seen meeting twice. She went with me to see him once.

Is that interesting to you?

Well, let me tell you something, I haven’t met Amr Khaled in my life! Not once. And this Magda woman. Who is Magda? They say I met a Magda, and she sounds like she is my BFF according to these papers.

Last year the state security ordered my 3G services interrupted at this time [points], on this date. [Points] I was scheduled to have a conference call with an international entity. They tried to intercept it.

I can’t remember if I had the call or not. Probably I did, but probably the connection was bad. But then, the connection is always bad.

They thought they were clever, but they weren’t that clever. We always knew when they were monitoring us or tapping our phones.

I have no secrets anyway.

I’m not sure exactly what they did with all the information. Look at all this. Piles and piles, and it is just a fraction of what they have on me. They say that my file is the biggest among the activists’ files. They saw me as the greatest threat.

When they arrested me on April 6, 2008, I was blindfolded and interrogated for the entire eighteen days I was in detention. They thought I had some grand plan, lots of foreign funding and lots of foreign connections. They kept asking me about those things, wanting to know exactly how I had planned the nationwide strike on April 6 and who had groomed me for it. For eighteen days they asked me the same question.

I kept telling them, “I woke up one day early in April, found an SMS from Mahalla laborers asking for solidarity with them, and decided I wanted to support them and would create a Facebook page for them.” It was that simple.

They couldn’t believe it. It had to be some grand conspiracy.

I really did just wake up one day and spontaneously decide to do that. I made a Facebook page calling for a nationwide strike. Is it that hard to believe?

After that incident I came to be known as “The Facebook Girl,” did you know that?

Eighteen days in a horrible little cell. I want to write a book about it. Isn’t it strange that the Egyptian revolution was also eighteen days?

There are many things like that in my life. Many.

What do you think I should call a book like that?

I already know the title of the book.

I’ll tell you, but I can only tell you. No one else knows.