Recently released Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad became the ‘new’ Egypt’s first political prisoner after he was tried before a military tribunal for criticizing the ruling Egyptian armed forces on his blog. Nabil inverted the popular revolutionary chant stating 'the Army and the people were never one hand' to draw the ire of the military government.
When we heard about Maikel’s case he had already been on hunger strike for almost 30 days. When he announced his hunger strike, he explicitly said that he would prefer to die than to submit to the injustice of the secret military trials. All told, Maikel spent 130 days on hunger strike.
His protest did not go un-noticed, hitting major international news outlets like The Guardian and spurring campaigns such as Free Maikel, and No Military Trials. In many ways Maikel Nabil became a face of the international movement for freedom of speech and ending military trials.
The news came this week that Maikel Nabil had been given a pardon along with over 1600 others who had been subject to military trials.
The cynic in me finds the timing of Maikel’s pardon interesting. Today Egyptians celebrate the anniversary of their revolution and the beginning of their occupation of Tahrir Square. Many Egyptians will also protest the litany of human rights abuses committed by the military government.
This includes the violence perpetrated by the army against civilians and the 12 000 civilians subjected to military trials.
So why would the military authorities give protesters a living symbol of their grievances just before the big day?
Clearly someone in the military government in a moment of reflection asked the same question, and as Maikel’s family stood outside his prison on Sunday waiting for his release they were informed that he would not be set free until 26 January, conveniently one day after the revolution’s anniversary. Thankfully the Egyptian authorities saw sense and released him earlier than their initial 26 January statement.
Maikel’s pardon is extremely positive news; but it’s still an outrage he had to remain in jail for ten months following an unfair trial until he was given freedom.
We’ll be watching closely the large protests in Egypt today. Al Jazeera’s live blog will be updated throughout the day.