Opinion

"5 years ago I was a minority opposition, today - I am the people."

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He was the first person I called when I saw news from Egypt. "I can't talk, dear, I'm pretty teargased right now", he said.

I met him in Berlin. It was a blogger conference with participants coming from all around the world. For him it wasn't the first official international event he was invited to because of his activity. Very soon, we found a lot in common - he would tell me about his society, I would tell him about mine. When the uprise in Egypt began, I couldn't think of a better person to interview about it.

My interview with him for RFE/RL:

"Sandmonkey" is one of a number of bloggers and activists in Egypt getting the message out of the country through Twitter (he is sending his tweets via a friend in Jordan). RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service correspondent Nigar Fatali spoke with him about Internet activism in Egypt and its role in the country's uprising.

RFE/RL: What does it feel like to live in a country where Internet and mobile phone connections can be shut down by the government at any time?

Sandmonkey: It is not fun [laughing]. It clearly affects you. People are being transported back to 1980; they have to go back from technological progress to using landlines. And most of them don't even know the landline numbers of their friends to call and check on them. Having no access to the Internet and a curfew are driving people insane. For activists it means the inability to upload pictures and videos of the horrors that are taking place here, while for many other people it basically means the inability to do their job. No one goes to work because there's no Internet. The banks don't work because of that; the country in general is in paralysis. The fact that the government can shut down the Internet and phone connection anytime they want is simply unnerving.  

RFE/RL: Why do you blog under a nickname? Do you plan to reveal yourself?

Sandmonkey:I've always kept my identity anonymous and I'm not planning to reveal it because some members of my family are affiliated with the ruling NDP party and I don't want to put them at risk. 

RFE/RL: What is it like to be an activist in Egypt? Do you get oppressed or threatened?

Sandmonkey:These days it actually feels strange; scarier and more exciting. One day you're breaking barricades, the next day you get tear gassed, and the day after that you try to escape the gunshots of street thugs. But it's very rewarding because we see ourselves and our people being validated. We're proud of them for taking responsibility for their destiny and saying "No" for the first time in their lives. Everything about being an Egyptian got redefined in the last days. Before, many people would not agree with us. No one would believe that we could take action or do anything together, as a nation. Today, everybody is with us. Now people believe it's possible. Five years ago I was a minority opposition. Today, I am the people. And this feeling is indescribable.

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Быть египтянином сегодня...

My interview with Egyptian blogger and my friend 

Sandmonkey

for Radio Liberty in Russian. Soon to be published in English.

Sandmonkey – никнейм, который выбрал для себя один египетский блоггер и активист, начавший вести свой блог в 2004-м году. Он взял себе ник и скрывает свое настоящее имя из соображений безопасности.

На сегодняшний день sandmonkey является одним из самых популярных блоггеров в Египте - его блог насчитываыет более 5 300 000 просмотров, а его страничку на Twitter отслеживают почти 6 000 человек.

В Египте почти с начала событий введены ограничения на Интернет, а с понедельника прекратил работу последний провайдер. Нигяр Фатали взяла интервью для РадиоАзадлыг у sandmonkey по телефону вечером 31 января. - Каково это - жить в стране, где правительство может отключить интернет и мобильную связь в любое время? - Это невесело (смеется). Воздействует на человека. Сейчас люди перенесены обратно в 1980, из технологического прогресса им приходится возвращаться к наземным линиям связи, проще говоря, к городским телефонам. И большинство из них даже и не знает домашних номеров своих друзей и близких. Комендантский час и отсутствие интернета сводит людей с ума.

Активисты лишены возможности загружать фотографии и видео тех страшных событий, которые здесь происходят. Для других отсутствие интернета означает невозможность работать - люди просто перестали выходить на работу. Банки тоже не работают, страна в подвешенном состоянии. Сам факт, что правительство может отключить нашу связь с миром в любой момент настораживает и откровенно нервирует.

- Почему Вы пишите под псевдонимом? Вы планируете раскрыть свое имя своим читателям в свое время?

- Я всегда писал под никнеймом и не собираюсь раскрывать свое имя, потому что некоторые мои родственники тесно связаны с правящей партией и я не хочу подвергать их опасности.

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Emin and Adnan: 17 months of change

Bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade celebrate their release after 17 months of imprisonment.

Bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade celebrate their release after 17 months of imprisonment.

This post is not about me. It's about two people, worth love and respect who had to go to prison. And came back.

And their friends and close ones, who stayed on the other side and didn't give up.

***

Emin Milli leaves the prison.

Emin Milli leaves the prison.

Azerbaijani bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were arrested on July 8th, 2009 with the charge of hooliganism after being beaten by two athletic strangers in one of the downtown cafes. Evidences, such as street camera, which showed them, beaten, going to the police station to file complains, as well as many other evidences that could prove them innocent, were not accepted by the court. Testimonies that could help them, were not heard either. After four months of pre-trial detention, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were plead guilty and sentenced 2,5 and 2 years of detention respectively.

But let's start from the beginning.

The night Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade got arrested around 30 people were standing in front of the police station. It was only 30, because Emin asked us not to post any information, since they were promised to be released soon. Their friends were waiting outside the station the whole time, even after a group of policemen, pushed them on the road, saying they are not allowed to stand there, calling them a 'gang'. After 8 hours of waiting, Adnan called to say they are being arrested for 48 hours.

And then there was a snowball...

The campaign, we called AdnanEmin, was probably the biggest of its kind in Azerbaijan. No one will be able to tell you how exactly it all started. It just did. The moment they were arrested, it was posted on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Then moved to blogs, Radio Liberty, then to Yahoo Groups, e-mails, Skypes, Youtube, local media, international media, international organizations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and others) and NGOs, political parties and politicians. Then there were numerous statements (EU, CE, OSCE, US Department of State, UK Foreign Office, German Foreign Office and others), meetings, Emin and Adnan being included to agendas, Azerbaijani officials being asked about their case wherever they would go. Articles about them would be translated to countless number of languages, including Russian, English, Turkish, French, Spanish, Portugese, Macedonian, Hindu, Simplified and Traditional Chinese and many others. There was also the appeal of friends of Adnan and Emin to the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev , signed by hundreds of their supporters.

Emin's and Adnan's court hearings would gather up to 100 people, sometimes more. Protest actions would be held in several cities of the world, including Paris, London and Washington DC. Emin's birthday in October 14th, 2009 would be celebrated in LondonParisStrasbourgIstanbul, Ankara, BudapestNew York, Houston, Moscow, Basel and several other cities. There were videos for Adnan's birthday on July 13th (4 days after their arrest).

Then there was Hillary Clinton, mentioning the case of Adnan and Eminprior her visit to Azerbaijan, which was a big

Adnan Hajizade being interviewed by RFE/RL after his release in the courtroom.

Adnan Hajizade being interviewed by RFE/RL after his release in the courtroom.

shock.

"Now, it's only left for Obama to mention it", people would joke... And then, he did.

This campaign was held by a group of friends and supporters of Emin and Adnan, and their friends all around the world. This campaign was held without any financial support. This campaign was mostly intuitive and absolutely sincere.

It was so strong, that randompro-governmental or governmental voices would be left unnoticed.

Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were released conditionally on November 18th and 19th, 2010. Today, they're home, with their families and friends. They are happy to breathe clean air, sleep in their beds and eat home made food. They say the conditions in prison were tolerable, detainees treated them with respect and guards did not use any violence on them. They have plenty of funny stories from prison and even more information they want to share with the world from almost 300 books they read there.

And they are still not done reading and watching all the material about their campaign.

***

On July 8th, before a group of policemen pushed us on the road away from the police station, the officer asked us who we were and why we were standing there.

"We're their friends", was our response.

"How many friends can a person have?", officer cynically smiled.

"Oh, you'll see", we thought.

And they did.

***

This post shouldn't be about me, but partly, it is. Because writing it makes me happy as never.

Welcome home, Emin and Adnan!