Cleared of charges, Mozn Hassan sees her ordeal as “a case study for how solidarity matters”
For the first time in more than six years, Egyptian feminist activist Mozn Hassan feels relieved. The 2016 Right Livelihood Laureate can now begin to put years of judicial harassment behind her after an Egyptian court decided to clear her of charges last October.
“It’s not easy to spend more than six years of your life waiting to go to prison,” Hassan said in a recent interview.
Over the past decade, Hassan and the organisation she co-founded, Nazra for Feminist Studies, emerged as powerful voices for feminism and gender equality in Egypt and the region. Notably, Hassan documented rampant sexual assaults on women during the 2011 Egyptian uprising.
However, as Hassan and Nazra sought to bring feminist discourse into the public and private spheres, the Egyptian government grew increasingly hostile to their work.
What Hassan and her organisation experienced over the past years follows an increasingly familiar pattern: they were under investigation for allegedly illegally accepting foreign funding. Known as Egypt’s “Foreign Funding Case” launched under a draconian Mubarak-era law designed to restrain civil society, the investigation also targeted numerous other human rights defenders in the country.
“This was a big case that has been running in Egypt for 10 years and with harsh repercussions and sanctions,” Hassan said.
She was placed under a travel ban in 2016 due to the investigation. In 2017, a Cairo court also issued an assets freeze order against both Hassan and Nazra. These sanctions were ended only after the charges had been dropped by a judge citing lack of evidence last year.
“I’m relieved,” Hassan said. “I’ve survived a hard experience. I’m really grateful that I survived this.”
She credits solidarity on multiple levels for the positive outcome of the case.
“I, personally, and Nazra got tremendous solidarity and support locally, regionally, internationally,” she said. “I think we are a case study for how solidarity matters.”
Locally, she received a lot of support from other activists and people around her, she said, noting, “You feel that you are not alone: there are people who care about this.”
Regionally, she was able to look to other feminists who stood in solidarity with her while also fighting their own battles at home.
“The process with the Sudanese women, the process with the Tunisian women, the solidarity of the Gulf women, especially the Saudis when they were in prison, the feminist movement in Lebanon – all of these things did something for our daily lives, also in terms of thinking about tactics of resilience and sharing things,” she said.
International advocacy played a very important role in Hassan’s court battle, as well.
“I think this case is one of the examples where there was constant international advocacy for 10 years,” she said. “For all these reasons, I think this case is ending.”
Right Livelihood was among the international partners supporting Hassan and Nazra throughout these years, including through UN-based advocacy.
“Mozn has paid a high price for being vocal about women’s rights and gender equality in Egypt,” said Camilla Argentieri, Right Livelihood’s Advocacy Manager. “We are relieved about her acquittal – but she shouldn’t have been prosecuted in the first place.”
When Hassan received the Right Livelihood Award in 2016, she wasn’t able to travel to Stockholm due to the travel ban. Representatives of Right Livelihood travelled to Cairo in March 2017 to present her with the Award and show their solidarity.
“I am so grateful to Right Livelihood because I had an amazing family all these years,” Hassan said. “The time when the team came to Egypt to hand me the Award was one of the main motivations that happened in the last few years.”
After her ordeal, Hassan is now taking a more regional approach to feminism, working, among others, with Syrian women.
As for Nazra, the organisation is also becoming more regional and focused on education.
“This is time to rethink [Nazra] in the new era,” Hassan said. “You shouldn’t continue doing the same things, there are younger and fresher groups. So, Nazra is thinking more about focusing on mentorship, on the production of knowledge, on education.”