Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers Worth Emulating

Usually when you discuss fathers and their children in the Middle East, you think of the rulers. Hassan and Mohammed, Hussein and Abdullah, Hafez and Bashar, and the list goes on. Power seemingly passes from father to son naturally in the Middle East – at least, it did until the Arab Spring turned the region upside down. Thankfully, we will never know whether Gamal would have ruled like Hosni. And hopefully we will never know if Seif would have ruled like Muammar. For as the scenes coming out of Syria show, a son can be just as ruthless as his father.

It would seem odd, then, to dedicate this Father’s Day post to the power-hungry father-son duos that for too long have dominated the Middle East. Instead, I want to highlight a revolutionary family who have banded together to demand their freedom in a unified voice. Theirs is an example worth blogging.

Ahmed Seif is a prominent human rights lawyer who founded the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. Established in 1999, the center played a central role in developing the burgeoning democratic movement in Egypt. Their years of experience and unflagging energy proved pivotal during the January 25th revolution, despite the government’s best attempts to shut them down. Seif’s wife, Professor Laila Suief, teaches at Cairo University and is "widely known on the streets as brash and courageous, and has on numerous occasions faced down baton-wielding policemen with nothing but her scolding, scathing, booming voice and steely eyes."

Their daughter Mona is a passionate and dedicated activist just like her parents. Her Twitter feed @monasosh has become an essential source on the democratic movement in Egypt. Their son Alaa’s prominent blogging earned him a stint in jail, but that hasn’t stopped Alaa and his wife Manal from tirelessly pushing the frontier of freedom in Egypt. The youngest daughter, Sanaa, has also begun to join the family's political activity.

When asked about his father, Alaa told me on Twitter, "my father taught me forgiveness. He met police officers who participated in torturing him and treats them decently. My father taught me love and adventure. He once broke jail and ran away with me and my mom cause she wanted another child."

For the Seif family, the olive has not fallen far from the olive tree. They uphold the adage “Like father, like son (or daughter!)” But they also prove an essential counterpoint to the Assads, Mubaraks and Gaddafis. They exemplify how walking in your father’s footsteps can be an incredibly enriching and positive experience - both for the family and for the communities they serve. Luckily, the Arab world’s emphasis on family makes that experience the norm. As we have learned these past few months, for every father-son dictator duo, there are countless families who have banded together to fight for what they know to be right.

And so like Alaa, Mona, and Sanaa, I hope I too can follow the footsteps of my father. Just as much as Ahmed, his example is one worth emulating. With that, there's only one thing left to say: Happy Father’s Day, Larry Abu Jason!

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