Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why I left international relations, and why I support Maikel Nabil and his followers

18 years ago, the international relations department at Brown University essentially threw me in a ditch and took away my career.  Why? Because I was so talented in Russian studies that I knew more at age 18 than the tenured professors, and they were frightened of my superior intellect.  They bullied me so severely that I ended up  leaving the profession of international relations in a state of complete terror. 

Fortunately for my abusers and unfortunately for me, their bullying was an even more extreme and severe version of the relentless verbal and emotional abuse I had endured at home from my father and at school from my classmates, teachers, and administrators for six years in middle school and high school.   I survived a horrendous adolescence based largely upon the hope that upon entering university, all my nightmares would finally be over.

I had no way of knowing that I would be facing a Katrina-style hurricane of rejection, abuse, and exclusion at the hands of my professors in international relations at Brown University.  Sadly, though, the place I expected to be a source of healing and hope for my life and career, international relations, turned out to be a lion’s den where I was under relentless and merciless attack.  As an abused child, I was helpless in the face of yet another wall of bullies. 

I spent 8 years attempting to earn a living in the field on a freelance basis and found myself rejected wherever I went.  As a result of this tragic experience, I was unable to earn a living for many years.  I was also left financially dependent on my emotionally abusive father.   I felt terrified and trapped. 

And who helped me to find the inner courage to pull myself out of this catastrophic nightmare? Not one but two of Maikel’s friends.  One of them is Kareem Amer the blogger, a former political prisoner who is also a survivor of child abuse.  Kareem basically buttonholed me last year and said, “My nineteen year old girlfriend Aliaa has no income either, and she left her abusers.  So why haven’t you left already?”  Kareem helped inspire me to leave my emotionally abusive parents and grandmother.  Partly as a result of his support, I went to a domestic violence shelter for abused women.  By taking this giant leap of liberation from my abusers, I reclaimed my dignity and became a free person for the first time in my life. I began making career decisions for myself for the first time ever.  During my four month self-imposed separation from my family of origin in 2011, I became much healthier and stronger as a human being.   

And then the shelter closed due to financial reasons, leaving me at risk of homelessness.  At this point, Maikel’s friend and follower Ahmed Montaser stepped in with an incredible offer of help for me.  He urged me to come to Egypt – and live there for 18 months while I wrote my book on verbal abuse.  He offered to help set me up with a place to live – to show me around, to teach me Arabic, to help me find jobs teaching English.  Several of Maikel’s other friends also offered me their support as well.  I discovered that I have some incredible and amazing friends in Cairo- because when my back was against a wall and I faced annihilation, they stood by me day and night with emotional support and with practical suggestions.  I know I can count on Maikel’s followers because you came through for me in an amazing way amid perhaps the most terrifying crisis of my whole life. 

So even as I move forward with the study of nature photography and freelance writing, I know that I have some incredible friends in Cairo.  When my world crumbled to the ground, you helped me pick myself up off the floor and live to fight another day.  And this explains why I am willing to help Maikel and his followers in any way I can.  For me its not just a matter of ideological agreement with Maikel and his followers.  I do greatly appreciate your very brave expressions of solidarity with Israel and the Jews amid horrendously dangerous political conditions in Egypt, but I cherish you even more for your personal friendship and support. 

Maikel has also extended himself to me greatly during his trip to the U.S.  We spoke on the phone three times in great detail and once briefly.  I thank him for taking so much of his time to speak to me at such length.  I know he has a very busy schedule as a politician, and he showed me tremendous generosity as well.  

And he has revealed himself to be a very selfless person on many different occasions.  For instance, he didn’t even have to start this pacifist movement at all.  Since he has a heart condition, he is medically exempt from serving in the Egyptian army.  So he started this movement to end conscription in Egypt not for his own sake, but for the sake of  other young men in Egypt who don’t want to serve in the Egyptian army. 

And further during our private conversations after his release from a horrendous ten month ordeal of captivity and hunger strike in prison, Maikel was not talking about his own needs.  No, he wanted me to know that two of his followers, including Mohammad Gamal of Cairo and an unknown person in his hometown of Assiyut, were murdered by the Egyptian army last year while demonstrating for his release from prison.  He was greatly distressed by the deaths of his followers, and he wanted me to write about it.

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