Sleeping Under The Bed: Arab Activists And Trauma

Friday 29 November 201904:14 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"أنام تحت السرير"... حياة نشطاء وإعلاميين في بلاد الخوف

Fatima was an energetic girl, hardworking, always forward-thinking, always mentally present, always willing to provide support and advice to everyone around her.

I first met Fatima (a pseudonym) in Beirut in 2015, in a workshop on campaigning for women's rights in the Arab world, but when we talked this time, I felt like there was something different about her, her responses were clipped and she was not as responsive to the conversation as she once was.

"At the end of the day, I realized that nothing would change under Arab regimes that appropriate our freedom and our right to life," Fatima said, "It is either silence or talking about what they want us to, anything else lands you in jail.”

Fatima, 31, who declined to be identified, adds that in the past two years, she and her organization, which she founded years ago, have been subjected to systematic attacks although her work does not target the incumbent regime but focuses on changing the laws pertaining to women, giving them more movement and freedom.

"The situation in Bahrain is very different from Egypt, we are a small country, and civil society and human rights workers are very few, and any defamation or targeting of any of them will have immediate consequences, especially if the target is a girl like me," she says.

"I ended up in a depression, and I asked for psychiatrist help when I began getting suicidal thoughts after my decision to stop public work altogether," says Fatima.

Frustration, fear, depression, attempts to disappear from the public sphere, and constant runaway attempts are common themes among activists and journalists who have been oppressed or intimidated by their regimes. These are the psychological effects that tyrannical regimes try to generate in the psyches of those working in the public sphere.

The Psychiatrist Warned Me

Morocco’s Imad Rachid (29 years), was among those who participated in the Rif movement launched by Nasser Zefzafi in October 2016, he took his camera, and decided to go down to the street, to document demonstrations and protests via his accounts on Facebook and YouTube.

Rachid told Raseef22 "From the very first moment I was relaying the events in the streets directly to the viewers behind the screens but after some time the Moroccan security apparatus began to deal with things differently, there were widespread arrests, including dozens of people involved in the movement."

"In the weeks immediately before my escape from Morocco, I was in constant fear and panic, especially with the knowledge that there were wide-reaching spates of arrests of participants in the movement and unfortunately before I deactivated it completely, my social media account was extremely responsive to the events, this was until I decided to confront all the psychological disturbances that I had gone through and to escape from the country- and that was that.”

The young Moroccan activist refused to talk about his fears. “My psychiatrist warned me not to talk about it,” he said. “I don’t want anything except to close my eyes then open them and forget all that oppression and fear.”

A more recent story is that of Ali (a pseudonym), a former Egyptian human rights activist who spent nearly two years in prison. He was a researcher at a human rights centre. He met a number of workers to discuss legal action against the management of their company and was arrested by security forces for inciting protests.

"At the end of the day, I realized that nothing would change under Arab regimes that appropriate freedom and the right to life" says Fatima "It's either silence or talking about what they want us to, anything else lands you in jail” #JournalismIsNotACrime
“I sleep under the bed, I don’t go out of the house, if someone knocks on the door without previous arrangements, the first thing I think of is to run to the balcony because if it’s #Egypt's security forces that are knocking- I’ll commit suicide first.”
The young Morrocan activist refused to talk about his fears. “My psychiatrist warned me not to talk about it,” he said. “I don’t want anything except to close my eyes then open them and forget all that oppression and fear.” #JournalismIsNotACrime

The lawyer decided to talk about the period after his detention rather than the period of detention itself and he summed up all the details of it succinctly “I sleep under the bed, I don’t go out of the house, if someone knocks the door without informing me beforehand the first thing I think of doing is to run to the balcony because if it’s the security forces that are knocking- I’ll commit suicide.”

Mohamed Abdel Nasser another Egyptian journalist who was in jail for more than two years and currently in the US, spoke to Raseef22 about his experience with mental disorders as a result of the detention and abuses he suffered in prison, and how he managed to overcome them.

Journalist Mohamed Abdel Nasser (not his real name) says that for more than six months, from the moment he was released from prison, he "slept under the bed" and whenever he tried to sleep in his normal place, he couldn’t manage.

"I did not leave the house for the first three months except to serve my parole hours two days a week, two hours a day. Otherwise, I didn't go out into the street until a friend advised me to visit a psychiatrist and talk to him.

Abdel Nasser recounted some of his conversations with his psychiatrist in Egypt before he travelled to America: "My biggest issue and what hurt me the most was my anger over being in detention for all this time without any reason, while criminals and murderers commit crimes without being punished for them when I said this to my doctor he went silent and then quietly said: should society bear the blame for this or the authorities that deprived you of your rights? From that moment, I decided to stop punishing myself through isolation and to impose responsibility on the people around for something they were not responsible for.”

"A few months later, I received an invitation to visit the US from a relative," Nasser said. "I feel much better, as long as I know I am many hours away from any attempt to arrest me again, but I will return despite all the pain I have to endure in Egypt.”

Living in Resorts

Some journalists and activists managed to overcome their crises, paying a high price for their mental health, but in the end, they managed to prevail.

Journalist Akram Mohamed Abdel Zaher, 32, told Raseef22 that he left Cairo four years ago and decided not to return to it after years of living through a psychological crisis. Abdel Zaher recounts the experience he went through in 2012 “I was arrested at one of the protests of the revolution. It was not just an arrest. I was tortured and violated to draw confessions about my participation in an attempt to storm the building of one of the major ministries in Egypt, in addition to being tortured and beaten for the purpose of humiliation, ''

“For more than four days, from the moment of my arrest to my arrival at Tora Prison, I was beaten and humiliated. The experience ended on a positive note as I was released a few days later, as a result of pressure from colleagues and the Journalists Syndicate, but the scar on my soul left by my arrest did not disappear once I was out”

"I asked for psychological help, and I went to a psychiatrist who helped me to overcome the crisis after a long period of depression, pain and thinking to end my life, but in the end, I got over it and decided to leave Cairo forever."

Since leaving Cairo, he has lived in several coastal areas, mostly by the Red Sea. He works as a freelance journalist in several Arab and foreign newspapers and sites. He also works as a volunteer at hotels and tourist camps there, in exchange for accommodation by the sea.

Revenge Against 25 January Activists

“The increase in torture and abuses taking place in Egypt is only to protect those perpetrating torture” said Dr. Aida Saif Al Dawla, director of the Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, one of Egypt's well known human rights centres, which provides psychological support to victims of torture and alleviates its psychological effects.

According to Aida Saif al-Dawla, what is happening currently in terms of torture whether physical or psychological or the use of pressure and intimidation of civil society workers in Egypt, is unprecedented, especially since the torture and violations appear to be a campaign of revenge against the January 25 revolution and those who were involved in it.

Saif Al Dawla told Raseef22 that depression is the most prominent psychological effects of torture and the accompanying psychological symptoms, where the survivor of the violence loses any hope in the future, accompanied by sleep disturbances and nightmares, and the inability to go to sleep or sleeping poorly.

Psychological effects also include feeling stressed lack of energy, and sexual disorders, loss of libido and sometimes loss of sexual ability stemming from a sense of worthlessness and helplessness, caused by their inability to defend themselves during the torture.


*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Raseef22

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