An Activist In Cairo, An Exile In San Francisco
Ahmed Salah, a former Egyptian democracy activist and the author of You Are Under Arrest for Masterminding the Egyptian Revolution: A Memoir, seems to like San Francisco okay. In an excerpt posted to Pricenomics, Salah shares details of his activism in Cairo and his life now, formerly working as an SRO desk clerk and now teaching arabic to get by.
In summary, writes Salah, "For years, I led protest movements, organized demonstrations, survived a hunger strike, torture, and prison, and trained activists to lead rallies on a day of revolution. It all culminated in the best day of my life: February 11, 2011, when Hosni Mubarak resigned and Egyptians sang songs and set off fireworks in the street. "
Salah had been involved in activism for many years beforehand, he writes, and hardly was any of it celebratory. After his encampment was raided on one occasion, Sala writes that "I spent six weeks in prison, indefinitely detained and on hunger strike. Guards beat me, held mock executions, and told me my death would just be a bit of paperwork. Before the guards released me, the head of State Security threatened to bury me in prison if I showed my face at a protest again."
Even after Mubarak's defeat, there was an assassination attempt, criticism in the media, and further threats. As Salah explains, "For the last three years, though, I have lived in self-imposed exile in San Francisco. I was fleeing assassination attempts and newspaper headlines that smeared me as a traitor. I found safety—and the pain of dislocation and loss."
Why here? "I chose San Francisco because I knew it was a hub for activists—and I thought I would face fewer racist comments about Arabs and Muslims in California." Salah also appears to have a loose connection here in an Occupy Wall Street activist whom he had met in the States. But so far from home while much work remains to be done in Egypt, Salah appears frustrated.
I have a place to live, and while I am in debt, I’ve managed to make enough money from teaching Arabic to keep going. I like this city and the fact that I can go to the ocean, even though it fills me with survivor’s guilt. I do not know why I should live free while brave Egyptians suffer.
Indeed, the contrast is stark. As Salah writes, "Once I spent my days hustling between protests, interviews with journalists, and meetings with foreign diplomats. My goal was to free Egypt." And now? "on any given day," Salah says, "I struggle to make enough money to afford a slice of pizza. My goal is to avoid homelessness."