The following speech was given by Kareem Amer
at Google's Illicit Networks summit conference on July 19, 2012:
"I was set free from fear at a very early stage in my life. Most of you would be surprised to hear how I became free of fear. I was raised in an extremist family with a Salafist background. I know this sounds strange, but it helped set me free from fear. I had bad experiences in this background, so anything bad that happens to me now is nothing. It’s much less than what I suffered from.
I started writing in 2004. In those days I had no problems. I was ready to express my opinion no matter what. I disagreed with many of the issues in our society. My goal was to write and shed light on things I considered wrong, and on things that shouldn’t have happened and should change. As I said, I was raised in a radical extremist family, but during my childhood extremism wasn’t spreading in Egyptian society. There were extremist trends but it wasn’t like it is now. My family was isolated when I was young. They planted ideas in me, but I started to rebel. I had questions and no one answered me. They suppressed the very idea of asking questions.
At a certain point I found things in my family that I couldn’t ignore, like the issue of women’s rights. I have three sisters; two didn’t get an education because my family background wouldn’t permit it. They were forced to wear the niqab. They were deprived of their rights. They never went out alone. You can’t imagine. I couldn’t keep silent about this, but at the same time I couldn’t change my family. I started talking about women’s rights in Egypt.
There were radicals in Egypt at that time, but I thought about the issue from a broader, societal perspective. Society as a whole put pressure on women and repressed them. It suppressed their rights and limited their role, and later on I found that there are roots for that in religion. I don’t mean Islam only, but in Islam there are roots of repression and abuse of women. Then I started criticizing religion, and the mixing of religion with social things. Then I stopped fearing things. Fear went away after my family experience. I started to resist and was able to tolerate anything that happened,no matter what the price.
The first price I paid was getting arrested in 2005. Some “visitors” came at dawn - I was sleeping at home, and the state security broke in and arrested me for 15 days. I wasn’t tortured then. I had been talking about sectarianism in Alexandria, and they considered it an insult to Islam. Because of my Muslim background, they never expected that I would defend the Copts. They thought I was favoring Christianity. This is the price of sectarian strife. There is a polarization between the Muslims and Copts, and people had this idea in their mind that if I was favoring one over the other, it was an abuse of Islam.
They arrested me for 18 days and interrogated me. They blindfolded me, so I could not identify the officers who did this. Then they released me. It was the first price I paid. At the time I was studying Islamic Law at Al Azhar. The authorities disapproved of what I wrote about - so they interrogated and suspended me. The proof they brought was a print-out of an article that I wrote on the internet. They thought I would evade blame for it, but I admitted the article was mine. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and I passed the stage of fear long ago. I didn’t care what they would do to me - it was more important to change and affect the mentality of the people. So I got suspended from the University and they sent me to general prosecution, and they interrogated and detained me on a temporary basis. I was tried and sentenced to four years in prison for insulting Islam and the former president. Even though I tried to appeal, I spent the entire four years in prison."