Fall 2011 | Middle East Quarterly, Volume XVIII: Number 4 | by Rebecca Witonsky
Egyptian Dissident: Maikel Nabil Sanad
Maikel Nabil Sanad, a 25-year old pacifist currently on a hunger strike in an Egyptian prison, is one of the Arab world’s most pioneering human rights activists. A veterinarian by profession, in April 2009, Sanad founded the “No to Compulsory Service Campaign,” which aims to end the compulsory three-year military service term for Egyptian males and reportedly has upward of 3,000 members. Last year, he became the first known conscientious objector in Egyptian history when he refused to report for duty.
While distaste for the draft is not uncommon among middle-class Egyptians, the reasons for Sanad’s conscientious objection are virtually unheard of in the Arab world. “I don’t want to point a weapon at a young Israeli, recruited into obligatory service, defending his state’s right to exist,” he explained in October 2010. He has frequently expressed his admiration for Israel’s democratic freedoms, respect for women’s rights, and religious tolerance while voicing rejection of Arab terrorism and outrage over the blatant anti-Semitism propagated by the Egyptian military and political establishment during the Mubarak years. He even went so far as to publish an article on the Arabic language website of the Israeli foreign ministry entitled, “Why I Am a Pro-Israel.” He is learning Hebrew and has a Hebrew section on his blog.
Sanad has been severely persecuted for his pacifism and expressions of solidarity with the Israeli people, both of which are deeply taboo in Egypt. He was briefly imprisoned twice for two days each, and on one of these occasions was sexually harassed. After the fall of the Mubarak regime, he was targeted for more severe persecution because of his outspoken criticism of the Egyptian military junta. On March 28, 2011, Sanad was arrested for “insulting the military” and subsequently brought before a closed military tribunal. While other activists who dared criticize the new regime have been released within days of their arrest, on April 11, Sanad was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Sanad has suffered numerous abuses in prison, such as denial of access to decent food, placement with common criminals, being forced to shower in dirty water and to sleep on insect-laden bedding. Until recently, he was denied access to essential medical care.
On August 23, Sanad began a hunger strike to protest the injustice and conditions of his imprisonment. On August 30, he began refusing to drink water and stopped taking his heart medication. His father and brother Marc tried to visit him in prison on that day but were told by prison guards that Sanad “refused” to see them. His family and friends warn that he is fully prepared to die for his beliefs. And all this in the new, “democratic” Egypt.
Rebecca Witonsky is a blogger on USA Freedom.
 “Egypt: Blogger’s 3-Year Sentence a Blow to Free Speech,” Human Rights Watch, Apr. 11, 2011; The Huffington Post, Apr. 15, 2011.