Remembering Egyptian Human Rights Lawyer Ahmed Seif el-Islam
By Faria Rehman
This week, the world lost one of the most influential pioneers of the Egyptian uprising of the 1980’s, human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif el-Islam. His lifelong dedication to freedom and equality inspired a long line of protégés, many of whom took to Tahrir Square in 2011 to help overthrow the dictatorial power that had encompassed Egypt.
First arrested in 1983, Seif spent five years in prison, where he was tortured countless times for his nonviolent political activities. Upon his release, he emerged ambitious and determined to fight back against the unfairness of the Egyptian government and its use of torture. He quickly became a leader of the newly formed Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and eventually expanded his own law practice in the defense of victims of human rights violations. In 1999, following the death of his colleague Hisham Mubarak, he became the director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, one of Egypt’s leading human rights organizations.
Seif once said torture is “a form of cancer that can eat up a country’s youth, and stifle its ability to change, civilize, reform, and rebel.” In a pessimistic light, one might feel defeated by this observation and think it means torture is incurable. But Seif’s determination and his courageous fight for human rights told a different story. As with cancer, there isn’t currently a set cure that’ll eradicate torture forever; there are, however, activists like Seif working tirelessly against it, stopping it here and stopping there in hopes that one day it will be eradicated.
Seif passed away at the far-too-young age of 63 following a long illness, cardiac arrest, and two weeks of unconsciousness. He was married to Laila Soueif, a professor at Cairo University broadly known for her political activism and human rights work. Together, they have three children, Alaa, Mona, and Sanaa. Perhaps one of Seif’s greatest legacies is that all his children have followed in their parents’ footsteps and joined the fight for human rights. In fact, both Alaa and Sanaa are in prison for supposedly violating Egypt’s draconian anti-protest law.
Seif’s children, along with countless other Egyptian citizens, have been inspired greatly by Seif’s legacy, and work to carry it on in the face of a new repressive regime. Today, as we remember Seif, we should stand shoulder to shoulder with all in Egypt and around the globe who are fighting to eradicate the cancer of torture and establish a free, equal government that protects the rights of all citizens. We should work together to create hope for freedom, and eventually, freedom itself.