October 22, 2013

What Egypt can learn from Hypatia Alber

I'm not the type to go into frenzy over a baby, I shamefully admit it. It is not, because I don't love children, on the contrary, I adore them and believe they are our most precious key to a future. But in general I feel – other than the parents escorting them – that one baby in a pram pretty much looks like the next, a little ruffled, much confused over the many faces that pop up over the limited horizon the little carriage offers, not very communicative – and often plain asleep. While I of course understand that to the mother or father next to it this baby is, no questions asked (dare you), the most wonderful, beautiful baby that ever graced the face of the earth, I – silently – beg to differ but naturally assure the good parents that this indeed is one exceptional offspring. Which is true, seeing it is theirs and not somebody else's. So I am not really lying.

There is one baby however that has truly captured my heart for many reasons these days. And yes, even I find that she's not only exceptionally nice to look at (who could not fall for this cute smile?) but also someone very special, with a really beautiful name to go by: Hypatia. Hypatia Alber.

The little one was just recently born by her mother to the most proudest father you probably can come across, one, who already posted photos of her when she was still inside her mother, constantly having her hands at her head and her head often down to which he excitedly exclaimed: "That's my girl!"

He should know. For he is a man who uses his head a lot himself and almost got killed over this only a year ago: Alber Saber.

For those, who are not familiar with his story, which I wrote about a year ago on this blog (Alber Saber - And all is well in Egypt), let me give you a quick sum up: Egyptian, intelligent, 27 years old, thinking aloud about religion and God and trying to find his way in the labyrinths called religions. A Copt, I should add. And all and all, in the Egypt that was 'ruled' by President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood this was a toxic mixture.

A year ago this time, Alber Saber rotted in an Egyptian jail, awaiting the outcome of his trial for alleged blasphemy. In the aftermath of the riots around the vile anti-Islam movie "Innocence of Muslims", tensions against Copts ran high and Alber's posting of his contemplations on religion angered his Muslim Cairo neighbours who on 12 September stormed the house where he was living with his mother and threatened to burn the place down – with them inside. In their fear, mother and son called the police to protect them, but when the Egyptian police arrived and barely were able to make their way through a hateful, shouting mob, there was no interest to protect the Copts. The police sided with those attacking them instead, confiscated Alber's computer and arrested him, leaving the fear stricken mother alone with the death threats hurling crowd.

What followed was horror

Alber they took to the police station where he was thrown into a cell with criminals, not without shouting first that he had insulted God and was an infidel, so that the cellmates turned on him, beat him badly, and one slashed his neck with a razor blade. He had to spend the rest of the night in a corner, bleeding and scared and not knowing if he would ever come out of this alive.

His trial lasted almost three months and was an incredible, hate filled farce. On 12 December the judge ruled that Alber, in criticising religion, had incited 'tensions among Muslims and Christians' and therefor was guilty. The verdict: three years in prison. The chances of him ever getting justice in an Egypt full of sectarian strife under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had been crushed.

Five days later, as an appeal had been launched and due to the publicity his case and the unjust verdict received world wide, Alber Saber was freed on bail until the resuming of his trial in January 2013. On the day his appeal case was to start, Alber Saber had left Egypt. He knew, he would never get justice if he stayed.

The months that followed for him in Europe were both challenging and depressing. The freedom he gained was a wonderful gift, yet being torn apart from his family was extremely hard. He missed his wife, his mother, his friends. But had to grit his teeth and go on. His safety was at stake.

Then slowly things began taking good turns. The family situation became sorted out and a safe place to live was found. With a heavy heart still over Egypt and those left behind Alber Saber started to do what was his right as a young married man, to live and to love. And to become secure in his life.

It was at this time that a little human started to appear on the horizon, shy at first but bigger and bolder as the months went on, and a living proof that even after troubling times in an Egyptian jail good things can come out of it if you are released on bail. For this little one was conceived when freedom was restored, and it was for her the most that Alber had to make sure he would not rot in prison but be free when she would decide to enter this world.

And enter she did. With a smile so cute, it melts your heart, with wide awake, open eyes to observe and take in, with a twinkle in those eyes, as if trying to say that living after all is real fun and should be enjoyed and that sorrows surely are not part of the universe – and if ever they were may easily be forgotten.

Hypatia, as she so beautifully was called, was the biggest triumph over sectarian hate and police brutality and rotting in dark cells with cockroaches, violent guards and aggressive inmates. She was – and is – the epitome of life and what it is all about: Hope and humanity, compassion and happiness, and the wonderful right to own a future. For everyone. Even for her father who, only a year ago, had to endure such horrors.

The truth about being a father

It was one of the most dreaded parts of Mubaraks rantings, when the old dictator kept referring to Egyptians as 'my children'. When he called the men and women of Egypt 'my sons' and 'my daughters', though he never had a hand in their coming to this world and even less in their making a living and being allowed to live. While he named himself their father, he did not hesitate to make their life hell, neglect them, terrorise them, allow them to be beaten, arrested, tortured and even killed. Something a true father would never have done.

After he was gone, others came pretending to be different but picking up the same sick line of 'my children' and the farce of being a loving father. They too now are history, and how much the current strong man of Egypt, el-Sisi, feels to be the father of Egyptians has yet to be seen. But the well known, albeit dreaded, version of fatherly love from above is lurking once more around the corner.

Enters Hypatia again, full of innocence and natural trust, crouching into the arms of her real father, who could not be prouder and happier, and teaching those old Egyptian wanna-be fathers the simple lesson what being a father to a child really means. Three words are needed only: Love, security and trust.

If you see Hypatia's face, you know what Egyptians expect from their fathers and what they deserve. It is, with all those father figures, high time that the expectations finally are met.

If anything, Egypt can learn a lot from Hypatia and her wonderful smile: That it is worth living more than dying, that trust is the essence for happiness, and that without true, compassionate love, people should not even dream of calling themselves fathers. Only in the arms of a father of love, says Hypatia, can I cuddle securely, dream my little dreams of happiness and fall soundly asleep.

Which she promptly does.

Hush, Egypt, hush. It is time to become quite and contemplate what life is really about. From the darkness of jail hell to the brightness of pure happiness is but a short way. Choose the latter, come on. And while you still ponder on this – make sure please that you don't wake the little one. Psssst ...


All pictures © Alber Saber - reproduced with kind permission

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