Omar Hazek: Prison Letter on Why He’s Dedicating his New Novel to his Nephew

This letter, which ran in Arabic in Al Masry Al Youm, was titled, “I apologize to you from the bottom of my heart”:

omar-hazeq-23039I was still in the same prison, in the same cell, in nearly the ninth month of my two-year sentence on one hellish summer night in a terrible August. One new inmate was added to our ranks, making our count 23 men in a cell whose area was 3.5 x 5.5 meters, including a very tiny horrendously dirty toilet, in a space beset by rising violence, beating, and widespread scabies.

Such a life has granted me a treasure of humanity and introduced me to people who would be impossible to meet outside the confines of my cell. Some of these prisoners have taught me so much. Some of them granted me great support and true friendship, which has helped me remain a lover of life and of people. I should have mentioned those people and should have dedicated this novel to them. However, I preferred to leave that for my more recent novel, Life in White, all of which is written in prison, as prison has played the leading role in this phase of my life.

It was last April when I learned that Ahmad, the son of my eldest brother, a seven-year-old child, knew of my arrest and had seen pictures and footage of my trial hearings. He saw me handcuffed and recognized my family’s pain and sorrow — despite all attempts to conceal this from him. His innocent childhood could not bear this suffering, and he fell prey to psychological illness out of fretting for my sake, and for himself, that I would be tortured or beaten, which he deduced from what he could see on TV and the internet. He started to recover slowly, only after he was told that I was released from prison, had traveled to work abroad, and would soon return, laden with gifts and safe from the hands of the evil people who beat and imprisoned the youth.

I have wept a few times here — mostly for my mother, at times for prisoners who faced pains beyond their capacities, and sometimes for Ahmad. Ahmad grew up in a home near ours. He visited us frequently with his father. He would enter my room while I was reading or writing to greet me and then run to play. He would not forget to come and greet me before leaving, smiling with his round, soft cheeks.  He would open his small palms saying, “loos,” which developed into “aloos” with time, meaning filoos, or money — because I used to give him coins every time I would see him to buy some candy.

Why should a child like him pay so dearly for my personal choices in life? My family members were severely affected — especially my father and mother. However, they were all able to appreciate that these costs were paid in defense of a conviction. However, Ahmad alone had to pay the dearest price, which I am not sure he will be able to completely overcome. It is indeed a dear price paid so that the youth of this nation may make small steps towards their freedom, dignity, and their now-wasted rights.

During her last visit, my mother told me that dear Ahmad had a recurrence of the attack after having achieved tangible progress. At night, I put the draft of my novel close to my face to hide my emotions. I cried for my beloved Ahmad — whom I have known as an innocent child full of vitality and joy; fond of wandering in parks and on beaches; a lover of candy, juice and potato chips. I wept for Ahmad who suffered from my imprisonment more than I have.

Ahmad, who had been looking at the family photo album, took away a photo and sat with it in a corner. His mother saw him whispering to a photo, “I miss you … I miss you so hard,” and suddenly she saw it was me in this picture.

My beloved Ahmad, I want to apologize to you from the bottom of my heart, despite the fact that I have not committed a crime deserving imprisonment, for begetting you all that suffering. I want you to know when you grow up and when God blesses you with healing and peace, that you have paid a very high price for our dignity and humanity, and that your noble pain, along with other noble pains and blood, will create a great spirit. This spirit will inspire our struggles until we achieve the goals of our revolution. This is why I implore you not to waver and to pursue the path regardless of the price and my fate. You are a great comrade along the path.

This is why I dedicate to you — and only you — my novel. Out of love and in apology to you, Ahmad Essam Hazek.

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