To Sing the Truth and Name the Liars: Bearing Witness Under Erasure
February 15 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Egyptian writer and activist Abdelrahman ElGendy reflects on his experience as a political prisoner.
Abdelrahman ElGendy, Egyptian writer and activist
Abdulrahman Atta, Lecturer in Arabic, Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania
In the heart of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Abdelrahman ElGendy’s journey from a Cairo marathon runner to a six-year political prisoner at the age of 17 intertwines with both tragedy and resistance. His story transcends mere survival; it is an exploration of language, love, and the relentless pursuit of justice in a world turned upside down by political upheaval.
Through Abdelrahman ElGendy’s eyes, we will experience the transformation from a bystander to an active participant in the Arab Spring, a change that leads to his unjust imprisonment for over six years. In prison, writing becomes a significant tool for his survival and continued activism.
The special conversation between ElGendy and Penn Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations’ Lecturer in Arabic Abdulrahman Atta invites us to explore critical questions: What does it mean to inhabit a space designed to erase you and insist on being? Where do untold stories go? How do we bear witness and speak into archival silences?
A program of the Wolf Humanities Center’s 2023–2024 Forum on Revolution
Abdelrahman ElGendy is an Egyptian writer and activist. For six years—between 2013 and 2020—he was a political prisoner in Egypt. ElGendy’s writing engages with creative counter-narratives of history as a form of resistance to erasure and cultural genocide. His work appears in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, AGNI, Truthout, New Lines Magazine, Mada Masr, and elsewhere. ElGendy is a Dietrich fellow at the University of Pittsburgh’s Nonfiction Writing MFA, a Heinz fellow at Pitt’s Global Studies Center, a 2021 Logan Nonfiction fellow, a 2023 Tin House scholar, an awardee of the 2023 Katharine Bakeless Nason Award in Nonfiction by Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a finalist for the 2021 and 2023 Margolis Award for Social Justice Journalism.
Abdulrahman Atta is a Lecturer of Arabic Language and Culture in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. As a senior at Al Azhar University in December 2013, Abdulrahman was arrested during a demonstration against the military coup in Egypt. After his request to take the prior year’s exams was approved, he managed to graduate in 2015 and finish his sentence in December 2016 . During his time at Wadi al Netron Prison, Abdulrahman and a group of Al Azhar and Ain Shams university students cofounded Almadrasa school in an effort to help students graduate, and to learn about what is going on in the world at the time of their sentence. In 2017, two months after his release, Abdulrahman was accepted at College of The Holy Cross Foreign Language Assistants Program and moved to Massachusetts, where he finished his Graduate studies at Framingham State University and taught at Boston University and College of The Holy Cross.