Sunday, September 25, 2011

He is perfectly ordinary man

Alexandria, Egypt: His name was Sayed Bilal, he was thirty years old, married, and his wife was pregnant. He was a practising Muslim, neither an activist nor an agitator. He had a job and did not stand out from the crowd in any way. He lived near the Thahereyya train station. On the evening of 5 January 2011, he received a phone call from state security agents telling him to report to the local police station in the Al Raml District at 10 p.m. to help with an inquiry. ‘Bring a blanket with you,’ he was told. ‘You might need one.’

Sayed Bilal is poor. A simple, unpretentious man, an average citizen. No one is happy to be summoned to the police station in such countries. But since he has nothing to reproach himself for, Sayed takes a taxi with a clear conscience and shows up at the appointed time. No one has come with him. He does not know that his last hour is fast approaching. And how could anyone have known that? Sayed Bilal has no criminal record at all and has never had to deal with his country’s police force. In fact, that is why he has been singled out: he is a perfectly ordinary man.

The interrogation begins with the verification of his identity; a completely normal procedure. Sayed is calm. He doesn’t dare ask what’s on the tip of his tongue: ‘Why am I here? What complaint do you have against me? What are you going to do with me? What have I done wrong?’

Sayed says nothing, answers their questions as best he can and waits to see how things go.

All of a sudden, the men move him to another room. They push him along and take him down to the basement; soundproofed, it is a place where no sound can get in or out, a place for torture. The police have thought of everything. The neighbours must not be disturbed. No noise, nothing shocking, because it seems that certain citizens cry out when they’re hit too hard. They scream. That hurts the torturer’s ears and might split the cork glued to the walls to absorb noise.
Tahar ben Jelloun in Granta. Here

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