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I still remember Sarah the cheerful, the curious, the passionate, the fighter, the heroine, the fragile, the resilient, the inspiring, the rebellious woman. Not only was she my friend, but also my compass, my Sarah. Despite the hustle and bustle, Sarah lived an ordinary life that could have gone barely noticed unless you paid attention to it. And if you do look closely, you will see excellence and regret every moment you lived without knowing Sarah Hegazi. Sarah is that low-voice, short-hair, a turned-philosopher young woman in her twenties, comes carrying Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. The first time you meet with her, she comes prepared to discuss the history of moral systems declaring her passionate support for Nietzsche in attacking dogmatic philosophies based on false postulates. You cannot help but sense that Nietzsche has come back to life with an angelic face to discuss the concept of guilt, attack the moral system of the prevailing religions of his time, and declare the absurdity of imposing one moral system on all people.
Seconds later, you see Sarah wearing her feminist hat attacking Nietzsche’s views on women and his provocative style. She pulls out Nawal El-Saadawi, On Women, Religion and Morals, quoting what El-Saadawi said about her book, “I was more interested in rescuing the bodies and minds of women. It comes naturally to me because I am a woman and a doctor who experienced mentally and physically the tragedies of women, especially the poor.” Sarah continues stressing that we glean from the writer everything that suits us, not everything they write. For long hours, Sarah continues to talk about philosophy, feminism, socialism, and Palestine, and about sublime love that has always captivated her heart. Hours pass by and Sarah is still talking, and you are still listening without growing bored for even a moment.
The hustle and bustle of Sarah’s life was an outcome of the absurdity of reality, her deep conviction in her pursuit against that absurdity, and her refusal to be a yes-person.
Sarah did not second guess herself before waving the rainbow flag at Mashrou’ Leila’s concert. With her usual innocence, she did not calculate the consequences of the confrontation. Sarah raised the rainbow flag to simply show her support for the band’s singer Hamed Sinno and declare the presence of the LGBTQI+ community in Egypt in front of society and the entire world. In utter innocence and in holding a piece of colorful cloth, Sarah defied society with all its spectrums and the system with its pillars.
Because of a piece of cloth, Sarah was subjected to all kinds of oppression. Society vented against her all evil and hatred, and opposing extremes found unity in casting her out. The state rose and did not rest until placing her behind bars, declaring victory. What was their definition of victory? Prevailing over Sarah’s soul.
Sarah Hegazi lived ten long days in hell of waiting. She sees her pictures publicized on television accompanied by hatred and incitement against her. She sees the passivity of society around her rejecting her innocence. The same society for which she fought went out chanting to break her will and violate her freedom, petitioning security services to move to get rid of this evil plague. As her imminent arrest approached, she saw how they start labeling her as a malicious epidemic.
Sarah visited me on September 30, 2019. I had undergone surgery two days earlier. She came to check on me, forgetting what was happening around her and escaping the hell that followed her. But she could not! She was in tears when she shared her fear for the safety of her mother and younger siblings if they arrested her. I tried to reassure her, but I saw in her eyes the knowledge of her inevitable fate. She let me know that she planned to sign a power of attorney for me; because she wanted me to be her lawyer when she was arrested. We look at each other thinking of what is coming.
The security forces arrested Sarah at her house at dawn on October 2, 2019. On her first night, Sarah was subject to the beating and sexual harassment by other female prisoners, incited by the head of the investigations at the Sayeda Zainab police station. Hours later, Sarah was transferred to the headquarters of the Supreme State Security Prosecution headquarters where an interrogation started with her on charges of “inciting acts of immorality or debauchery and joining an outlawed group that seeks to disrupt national security and social peace.”
Who did that?! Sarah Hegazi? Sarah Hegazi did all of this? And she would appear before the Supreme State Security Prosecution, which typically handles crimes like terrorism and national security? Sarah Hegazi is a threat to national security?! Oh, how fragile is that national security!
Over the years of working as a professional lawyer, I became used to separating personal and work matters. I learned how to become emotionally detached so that I could offer the best I have for the benefit of the defendant I am representing.
But this time my defendant is Sarah Hegazi—a friend, a sister, a daughter, and a mother. When I saw her at the persecution office with handcuffs, I could not help but cry. I petitioned the person holding her to remove the handcuffs; no one dares to escape from inside the Supreme State Security Prosecution. He reluctantly agreed. Sarah ran towards me throwing herself in my arms, so I hugged her tightly. I knew by doing that I might subject myself to interrogation as an accomplice, but I could not prevent her, I would not want to do that. Sarah is not an indicted criminal, society is the real culprit, and the system is the real criminal.
Sarah’s interrogation lasted for about nine hours. During the interrogation, Sarah was able to answer all her interrogator’s questions without indicting herself or implicating others. At the same time, she was able to confront the interrogator with his ignorance. Sarah Hegazi was able to convince the prosecutor with science against myths. Using arguments and proofs, she convinced him that homosexuality is not a mental illness, but an instinct exactly like the instinct of heterosexuality. Even though the interrogator found her argument convincing, he pointed up, hinting that the decision to imprison her comes from the officials he is reporting to and their bosses.
Sarah was sent to Al-Qanater Women’s Prison, and a new chapter of torment began. Sarah was subject to torture with electricity and beatings. They also denied her the right to exercise, preventing her from talking to anyone. When Sarah tried to distract herself from feeling lonely by drawing on walls as her cellmates do, she was forbidden from doing so as well.
I visited her in prison several times but never was allowed to be with her alone. Every time a security person had to sit in between, listening, and writing down everything we said, even if it was just my reassuring words about her mother’s condition.
For three months, Sarah was subjected to various forms of psychological and physical torture.
Nevertheless, Sarah believed that there are commonalities that all humans share: whether they are murderers or murdered, prisoners or prisoned, between her and those who rejected her, between her soul and her executioner. She never dehumanized anyone, even those who hurt her. That tendency was not a result of Stockholm Syndrome, but a fruit of a doctrine of love in which she has always had a deep conviction. Why? Simply because she is Sarah Hegazi, the heart that never knew the meaning of hatred.
Sarah used to write me a letter every day from her prison cell and start it with “Ya Rafeeq” (“Hey mate”). In one of her messages she wrote:
If there are two things that I’ve learned during my experience in prison they are
1- have absolute distrust in people
2- don’t generalize
Regarding my second point, I shouldn’t generalize that all police are jerks!
They aren’t all jerks, rafeeq.
All of the guards I encountered during my transfer from the prison to State Security Prosecution have good hearts! Yes, they have closed minds, but at the very least they are not jerks like their superiors!
Just like the prison chief, whose eyes reveal that he is a [good] man with a kind heart and his humanity unfolds before me when I look at him—yes, comrade, I can read hearts! Oh, pardon me – not claiming to be a god!
Nothing—all that matters is that I am looking for beauty in the midst of ugliness, and I found some good people among the police, so bless them—peace be upon them and save them from all evil.
Despite all they did to her, Sarah did not want to see the evil inside them. She chose to see what was in their hearts so that she did not end up losing her faith in humanity.
During this past year, I am almost certain that I read everything written about Sarah, but what Nawara Najm wrote in her article published on Al-Manassa remains the most applicable of all: “She was fine, beautiful, innocent, smart, kind, friendly, courteous and stubborn. With their sickness, they treated her then said she was sick. With their cruelty, they killed her then said she committed suicide.”
What could cause a rose like Sarah to prefer taking her own life?
They ALL destroyed her…all of them, society, and system.
For months and years, they took turns destroying her life: Hatred, violence, imprisonment, torture, and then hatred, more hatred, and even more hatred; after she left to exile.
Sarah wrote on August 2, 2017, on her blog: “Suicide is a murder committed by people who will never be convicted! An entire society took part in the crime.”
Sarah did not die when she took her own life.
Sarah wanted to live, but she was being murdered in cold blood, for years.
Sarah just wanted to put an end to that pain and stubbornly chose Pride Month as the time of her exit.
She lived a life full of hustle and bustle, then walked away in a loud outcry. In doing so, she wrote a new chapter in resisting oppression, injustice, and reactionism. With her departure, Sarah indeed supported the LGBTQI+ community as she did in her life.