Maikel Nabil Sanad is perhaps the most unusual Egyptian you've heard of recently. He is 25 years old, a veterinarian, graduate of a university in Asyut, and now officially a conscientious objector to military service in the Egyptian army.
"The army told me its final decision was that I must present myself for an officers' course on October 22 in Fayid and start obligatory service of three years," he wrote on his blog last week. "I thought about this a lot and decided to refuse to serve in the Egyptian army, and accept the results, whatever they would be, even though I knew the results would be hard because I am the first young Egyptian to refuse to serve for pacifist reasons."
Sanad also explained his decision: "I am a pacifist, I am against bearing arms and participating in military and paramilitary organizations. Recruitment goes against my conscience. I don't want to act against my conscience, whatever the price. I also am not willing to be a pawn on the chessboard of an arms race, struggles and bloodbaths in the region. I don't want to point a weapon at a young Israeli, recruited into obligatory service, defending his state's right to exist. I think obligatory service is a form of slavery and I have worked for years for my freedom."
Egyptian soldiers (Archive photo: AP)
He claims the military establishment began a propaganda campaign against him. "They accused me of collaboration, of treachery, of working for foreign interests. In light of this campaign, I began fearing for my life if I were to serve in the army, especially in an organization that enjoys censorship, a non-neutral military judicial system etc. In my desire to preserve my life, even if I sit in jail for years, I prefer this to the adventure of being killed in the army."
Conscientious objection in Syria too
This is certainly unusual case of an unusual young man, and when one speaks with him his unusual thinking is also evident – certainly to Israeli ears.
"Though they haven't contacted me directly, they managed to get the message to me that I should sign up, but I decided against it," he said to Ynet. "I thought about it a lot and decided this because I am a pacifist and believe in peace."
Sanad says he is not a lone voice. "I lead a political movement called 'No to Obligatory Service.' Some 20 or 30 activists work on the ground but our Facebook group has some 3,000 members. And what's more, I was happy to learn that our ideas took wing in the Arab world, and a similar group with similar ideas has been set up in Syria. I am trying to spread the ideas as much as I can."
As the conversation progresses, it becomes clear that these are not the only strange ideas Sanad has. "I am pro-Israel," he says. "I don't want to take part in anti-Semitic operations or those that negate Israel's right to exist in the region. I see Israel as a liberal, modern state with a religious character. I have friends in Israel and I think Israelis have a right to defend themselves."
Operation Cast Lead: A 'normal' response (Photo: AP)
The young Egyptian doesn't even hesitate to say the Palestinians are to blame for the conflict with Israel. "If the Palestinians had a democratic leadership, everything would be solved," he says. "Take the war on Gaza for example (Operation Cast Lead) two years ago. Hamas started it. They refused to hold elections in Gaza and took control of the regime. They planned a dictatorial and fundamentalist regime. They refused to speak to Israel, fired rockets at it and caused it to defend itself."
He says the IDF response to the rockets was "normal" compared to any nation in the world. "I don't see what the difference is between that and Turkey's response against the Kurds in northern Iraq. It's exactly the same."
'They say I'm a spy'
When asked if he is afraid to express such views in public, he says, "I have been speaking like this for eight years already, and I have been arrested a few times for political reasons. It's not new. I am a serious supporter of peace, tolerance and mutual forgiveness."
He adds that he fears nothing. "I have lived all my life under risk and I'm used to it," he claims. "They are already saying in the Egyptian media that I'm a spy."
He explains his attitude to Israel thus: "From a young age I read a lot about the Israeli-Arab conflict. I understood the Arab media hid facts that support Israel. I tried to contact Israeli activists and started asking them questions, such as, 'Is it true that Israel is a militaristic state?' or, 'Is it true that Israel wants to expand and reach the Nile? That's how I learned. I understood a lot about the state, society and its laws. Many Arabs living in Israel told me how they are really treated and how much they prefer living in Israel above any Arab state. I also read about Israeli pacifist organizations."
Despite his love for Israel, he has not had a chance to visit because Egypt forbids his exit from the country. "I am forbidden from leaving for the next three years because of the military service I am supposed to do, and I imagine this prohibition will be extended," he says, but also notes that "the Israeli nation must know there are many Egyptians who support it, that we love Israel and support its right to exist. The picture painted by the media that all Egyptians hate Israel is false. This picture is not correct, and I want to make that clear to you."
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