Interview with a hero

December 16, 2008

One of Amnesty International’s most important responsibilities is to support the human rights activists doing the difficult work on the ground in the countries around the world.  Increasingly, particularly in the Middle East, it’s become the opinion of Amnesty International country specialists that our ability to change the world depends on our ability to create space for these grass-root activists to exist.

Ahmed Seif El-Islam Hamad
Ahmed Seif El-Islam Hamad

One such activist is Ahmed Seif El-Islam Hamad, a 57 year old Egyptian lawyer and one of the founders of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, named after another Egyptian human rights lawyer.  He has been an engine driving legal attacks against torture, arbitrary detention, mass and arbitrary arrests and other human rights abuses.

In an interview with Amnesty International posted this week, Ahmed Seil El-Islam Hamad says working on human rights in Egypt and the Middle East is easier now than two decades ago because the Arab public has come to recognize that these rights are part of their own culture.

“In the 1980s, the political elite and society at large used to see the Egyptian rights movement as representatives of Western values within Egyptian society, so they treated it with caution, preferring to stay away from it,” he tells Amnesty. “The government manipulated this skeptical attitude in an attempt to isolate the rights movement from its natural environment. Things have changed since 2000, and that barrier has now ceased to exist.”

His work is a story that we have to tell and American policymakers should listen to.  It is the voice of the people who know speak of human rights and democracy in a language that speaks to Egypt’s tradition, history and culture.  It’s a reminder that we don’t have to import these ideas — they’ve been there all along.

To read the full interview with him, please click here.