Egyptian Activist Wael Ghonim Describes His Time in Prison Following the 2011 Protests

What was it like being in the Egyptian jail? What happened during those days? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Wael Ghonim, Egyptian Activist, on Quora.

It was a horrifying experience. I was secretly abducted by State security and was put in solitary confinement for 11 days. The scariest part was that I didn't really know what was going to happen to me, and I had no idea what was happening outside the prison.

Before I start, I wanted to highlight that my experience is nothing compared to many other Egyptians who get abducted and imprisoned, I was very lucky. I continue to worry about the state of human rights in Egypt, I believe that we are in a very hard time where thousands of people are imprisoned and going through much worse than what any of you can imagine.

Having said that, here is my personal experience:

After the major protests that took place January 25th, 2011 the Egyptian police uncovered my identity. A few hours before the government shut down the Internet and telecommunication, I was walking through a dark street in Cairo at around midnight. I had just tweeted:

Suddenly three men jumped me from behind. They wrestled me to the ground. As one of them held me down, another clutched my legs with his arms, and the third sealed my mouth with his hand. With my voice strained from chanting at the demonstrations, I could just manage to yell for help. "Shut up, you scoundrel!" came a harsh voice. "Don't you dare let out a sound." One of the men reported through a radio transmitter, "It's done, sir. We're ready." I was taken to a secret place, and they started with what they called: "the party", while being blindfolded I was beaten up by various people.

The physical beating I received was not bad, but together with the verbal insults, it was enough for me to give in to their orders. I felt like a living corpse. One of the men grabbed my arm and dragged me to a spot not so far away. "What is your name?" "Wael Saeed Ghonim." "Wrong!" he screamed while slapping me on the face. "From today onward you will forget this name. Here you are called 41. Okay, 41?" "Okay." "What's your name, kid?" "41." I shivered.

I was interrogated by three officers for the following few hours, they warned me at the beginning that if I didn't give them the information they were looking for, they'd have to start torturing me. I have to admit, I was too weak and vulnerable at this point that I didn't know what to do. As, I started answering their questions, one of the officers slammed his hand hard on what sounded like a wooden table. "Look, son, it seems that you want to play dumb. Don't underestimate us, I tell you. I gave you a chance to tell the truth, but it seems that you insist on lying." and from that point, I decided: I'll just tell them everything so that I didn't put anyone else in danger.

They asked me about Google, they wondered how a 29 year old kid could be in an executive position in a large company [too old school I know], and their interpretation to that was: I'm a CIA agent that happens to work for Google undercover. They didn't really understand that some people would sincerely care about the country without being secret agents of other nations! They were in total denial.

During those 11 days, I had no access to anyone, I wasn't allowed to speak unless I was asked to. My family didn't know where I was, and for days they were trying to search for me in hospitals, police stations and even morgues.

I was blindfolded and handcuffed 24/7 even when I had to use the bathroom or eat. I was sleeping on the floor and wasn't allowed to standup without the permission of the soldier monitoring me. I was always shaking from fear, and I had a lot of nightmares. There were many occasions where I heard other prisoners being tortured and screaming for help.

I had a lot of "regret" and suicidal thoughts coming and going throughout that period. What kept me going is thinking that, it doesn't really matter how many years one could live, what really matters is that we spend our lives defending our values and principles.

After the security officer blindfolded on me, the only thing that I wanted was to be able to see my kids again. I feel fortuned that I survived and still living with my wife and kids.

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