EUME Berliner Seminar
Mi 19 Okt 2022 | 17:00–18:30

“Have we not yet been defeated?”—On Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s Writings from Egypt’s Revolution and Prison

Alia Mossallam (EUME Fellow 2017-23) in conversation with Yassin al-Haj Saleh (writer / EUME Fellow 2019)

Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

The writings of iconic Egyptian activist and writer Alaa Abd el-Fattah have raised crucial questions and introduced a new language to issues such as prison abolitionism in Egypt, the universality and interconnectedness of our struggles across borders, and our way forward after defeat. Today, and on his 9th year in prison and 201st day of hunger strike, we honour Alaa’s belief that ‘there is no chance in individual salvation’, and take it to the broader understanding of the individual, the local and the national. With the release of the Arabic version of Alaa’s book “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated” (2022), entitled “Shabah al-rabie” (Ghost of Spring), we will read extracts of his book and engage with his ideas on the space for struggle after defeat, and the language with which to document imprisonment and revolution. In Alaa’s own words:
“They can no longer successfully seclude and discipline bodies; we hear the lament of prisoners, albeit faintly. The outlawing of the bodies of prisoners and their loved ones and the expanded construction and filling of prisons are merely an attempt to subdue rebellious bodies, even if their rebellion involved no more than declaring their pain. Now we must ask ourselves in all seriousness: How do we protect our children’s bodies from this legacy of prisons? The solution does not stop with the release of detainees. It starts with release, but must end with an imaginative vision for the erasure of prisons, not prisoners.” (From: ‘A personal introduction to viciousness in enmity’, Mada Masr, 2019). 


For some background before the talk, we recommend to read Mada Masr’s interview with Alaa in 2019 through these links in Arabic or English, and Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s introduction to the book here (PDF). 

Alia Mossallam is a cultural historian, pedagogue and writer, interested in songs that tell stories and stories that tell of popular struggles behind the better-known events that shape world history. She is working on her book on the visual and musical archiving practices of the builders of the Aswan High Dam and the Nubian communities displaced by it. Her new project at EUME (2021-23), “Tracing Emancipation Under Rubbles of War”, retrieves the physical and political journeys of Egyptian and North African workers on the various fronts of World War I through the songs and memoires that recount their solidarities and struggles. Some of her writings can be found in The Journal of Water History, The History Workshop Journal, the LSE Middle East Paper Series, Ma’azif, Bidayat, Mada Masr, Jadaliyya and 60 Pages. An experimentative pedagogue, she founded the site-specific public history project “Ihky ya Tarikh”, as well as having taught at the American University in Cairo, the Freie Universität Berlin, the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts and Sciences, and currently at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a Syrian writer and political dissident. He was in jail between 1980 and 1996 for his leftist activism. Yassin al-Haj Saleh is the author of nine books about Syria, prison, contemporary Islam, intellectual life, the Syrian revolution and war, and the experience of the atrocious. He was awarded the Prince Claus Award in 2012 and the Swedish PEN Tucholsky Prize in 2017. During the academic years 2017/18 and 2018/19, he was a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and a EUME Fellow in 2019. Yassin al-Haj Saleh lives in Berlin.

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