Jailed pro-Morsi activist Asmaa Hamdy has been making headlines from behind bars as her hand-knitted products are in high demand.
Jailed for protesting the removal of former president Morsi, Asmaa Hamdy, a dental student who’s currently serving out her five-year sentence, is using her time behind bars to get creative and send a message. The former student is knitting woollen handbags, scarves and bracelets as she serves her time, in what started out as a hobby and then soon escalated to a Made In Prison line, which has caught international attention.
Hamdy, who taught herself to knit, started simply by making bags for her friends and relatives, to keep herself occupied. Soon, fellow prisoners started requesting she make the bags for their own friends and families, and it’s now evolved to her taking orders from the public via Facebook.
Hamdy was one of the myriad demonstrators jailed for protesting the removal of Egypt’s first freely elected President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, hundreds of them university students. Though she has a shorter sentence than many – five years, as opposed to many who are serving sentences of 17 years – her fiancée Ibrahim Ragab insists she was arrested on trumped up charges, targeted merely for opposing Sisi. “They accused her of seven imaginary charges: they said she set the cafeteria at the medicine school on fire, attacked the school’s security and a police sergeant, and stole money. Anyone who sees Asmaa knows she couldn’t have done these things,” he tells the Guardian.
But Hamdy has made use of her time in jail, knitting away to prove that prison will not break her. “It’s just to deliver a message,” says Ibrahim Ragab. “Even if you’re jailing us, you can’t stop us: our souls are free. Whatever happens, prison won’t stop our imagination. As Asmaa is always saying, we’re beyond breaking point.”
What started out as a hobby has evolved into an almost business. Via Facebook orders, her family has said that she’s made around 50 bags at less than 100 EGP each; though money is certainly not a primary concern – making a statement is. Her family bring her wool when they go to visit her in prison, which she turns into finished pieces, and then receives more wool.
Prison authorities have not opposed the selling of the bags, allowing her to do so, but without the ‘Made in Prison’ label – they’ve forbidden the items to leave the prison with that label on them. “They don’t want to admit she’s in prison,” says her mother, Manal Saber. “They think she’s in a garden or something.”
So far, Hamdy is gaining momentum for the line and shows no signs of stopping as she makes a statement with an unusual show of defiance. Her mother says jailhouse socks might be next. Who knows, this could be the next big trend.