The Midnight Email

By Doaa Abdelaal

I still feel the teargas' effects on me... my eyes and my nose are on fire, the voices of people are coming from different sides “wash your eyes with Pepsi”, and the voice in my head “but my face will be sticky”. I still check my Twitter timeline and search for my friends and colleagues tweets or the face book updates; recalling the unspoken code: as long as you are tweeting or facebooking then you are safe and hopefully secure.


Their names are on my speed dial, the quick calls “Are you OK?”, and the short answer: "Yes".  The click of ending the call. Yes, I still remember our blood running in the tubes while we hurried to donate. The nurse pointing at me and calling: "Yes you, you have a rare blood type and we need it now". But I am not writing this piece about my memories of military tanks following the freedom chanters in the streets of Cairo where a phrase I heard once from Ayesha Imam was echoing in my ears “Fighting militarization is a feminist issue”.

I recall the midnight emails, they started in 2011 and never stopped. The first was right away after internet connections came back to Egypt on February 2011 (internet was disabled for five days between January 28th and February 2nd). From the International Coordination Office of WLUML in London, then another from Edna in Hong Kong, then another one from Homa in Canada and more to come later. I guess it was those emails in cold nights that made it possible for me to move from one day to another through the recent years (and maybe the years to come) when we have struggled here in Egypt to make it through tough times, to have a free and human place where rights of all are recognized and respected.

Those emails meant solidarity from many feminist mentors and colleagues from many corners in this world. It is one of many things I learnt and am still learning since I joined the Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) network. The simple and short lines of those emails mean that a person found time within their busy days to sit and write, thinking of you and your struggle. I do not know why those emails and messages are usually received around midnight but it is usually the case with me. I sat for many nights thinking that despite our diverse backgrounds as feminists, despite our different standpoints we share similar goals that foster a strong relation between us.

Within WLUML, and since I attended the New Volunteers Institute in 2007 (actually in that institute I first heard the phrase by Ayesha) I learnt to value solidarity and active support we as feminists give to each other by way of personal links and  ongoing exchange. We who attended the Institute were offered a space in which many friendships started. The space strengthened political and personal bonds giving us an opportunity to learn, trust and gain confidence in working together. I have learnt that we should commit to this solidarity against all violations of human rights against people of all genders. I learnt to believe that when harm is inflicted upon specific individuals or groups, the effects are seen throughout the whole world.

Through the years I was part of many solidarity emails sent, the petitions signed, the many public talks by feminists which were dedicate to social and political struggles in places far away from them, but which they knew were connected to theirs. And I learnt that it is not about “helping” it is about the deep realization that we “can and should” work together for “change”. It is the invitation to take the ride together as long as we share the same values and beliefs. Personally, I took it as a responsibility to discuss with younger colleagues how and when to offer solidarity.

When my friend Yara Sallam was detained in June 2014 and then sentenced for three years for protesting against the application of a new protest law, I felt that the whole world should stop moving, that the simple act of smiling or laughing was a betrayal. If the best between us is taken so why we should go on? I did not want to write her all of this in my first letter to her, but I think she sensed it from my lines and she wrote back telling me that when she gets out she doesn’t want to find that life has stopped.  She wants us to continue.

It was not emails this time but letters between Yara and her friends written with hardly legible hand writing. Letters to and from Yara, push all of us to continue. I know that letters are read by the prison’s security officers but I still manage to write her some personal stories and she writes back adding smiley or winking faces. I know that one day, we will sit and read them to tell the hidden stories. I told her in my letters about all the support and solidarity offered by many sisters and groups, and of those who still have her photos up as profile pictures and page covers on different online platforms. She wrote back saying “Thank you for being part of my life”.

Yara’s letters, the midnight emails, the phone calls, and all other forms of solidarity offered mean many things.  For me, it is a learning process where I learn about myself and about others in the struggle for a free world.  They mean we can open up and we can link, we can address our commonalities and our differences. But above all they help me to move and to not give up.

Dear sisters in the feminist struggle, keep sending those letters and emails and know that in middle of the night there is a colleague receiving them happily as they hear “You are not alone, nor forgotten. We are together”.

Doaa Abdelaal is Chair of the Board of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML).

This is the final blog in the WELDD #16Days blogging series which is dedicated to Yara Sallam who is currently falsely detained under Egypt's unconsitutional "Protest Law".