Eight sets of T-shirts, socks, underwear: white. Trousers: blue. Sweaters: blue. If you’re going to visit Alaa in prison, don’t wear blue in case the guards mistake you for an inmate. It happens, his mother tells me in all seriousness. Do not wear blue. Three bottles of juice go in the freezer the night before each visit to keep fresh through the long hours between home and cell, the metal detectors, the waiting room, the transport vehicles in the prison complex, the bench in the sun outside Alaa’s inner prison building. ‘His father was in that one.’ His mother points at the building next to her son’s.
I hadn’t seen Alaa for two years. Two years since we stood at his father’s funeral on the marble stairs of Omar Makram mosque. Two years since he was muscled by plainclothes police into an unmarked car back to prison. My cousin has been in prison for almost as long as Sisi has ruled Egypt. He was sentenced to five years for organising a protest. This month I was allowed to visit him.
1 a.m. In six hours the sun will rise on another grey morning and I will dress in the cold and drive to Torah prison. I’ll park my car by an old train track that's now a garbage dump and home to a pack of dogs and walk past a tank with a soldier staring at me and head towards the courtroom at the centre of Egypt’s contemporary justice system. I will flash an expired press card and talk in English to get through a crowd of young men and women arguing with policemen in sunglasses in the hope that they will be allowed inside to wave through layers of opaque glass and metal wiring at the shadows of their friends in the defendants’ cage.
On Saturday, the court case known in Egypt as the Shura Council trial was in session. Judge Hassan Farid entered the courtroom, flanked by the two other judges on the panel and a couple of morose security guards. The defence were to continue their closing arguments, the prosecution having wrapped up a month ago. But before the defence could begin, the judge leaned in to his microphone and asked if the prosecution had anything they wanted to say. The courtroom fell into a stunned silence – and then erupted in protest.
On 26 August a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was agreed, bringing a fragile end to a war that killed 2150 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 73 Israelis (mostly soldiers). Since then Hamas has not fired a single rocket, attacked an Israeli target, or done anything to break the terms of the ceasefire. Israel has done the following:
We pulled up to the shining blue facade of the main hall of the Islamic University in Gaza in the summer of 2012. The Palestine Festival of Literature was running a seminar and an afternoon of workshops with students from the Arabic and English departments. Jamal Mahjoub, Selma Dabbagh and Amr Ezzat spoke to a packed auditorium of around 200 students, mostly young women, all veiled. The university enforces a dress code. Someone smiled at me from the crowd and it was a full three seconds before I recognised my friend and colleague Rana. She is not normally veiled. But this is the university with the best facilities.
Israel's justifications for its assault on Gaza have shifted more than once since Operation 'Brother's Keeper' was launched on 12 June, supposedly in response to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. The rockets 'raining down terror' on Israel (they have so far killed three people, giving them a kill rate of 0.1 per cent) were the reason given for the launch of operation 'Protective Edge' on 8 July; the ground invasion of Gaza on 17 July was said to be aimed at destroying a series of tunnels leading into Israel.