Training Journalists Got Me Five Years in Egyptian Prison -- But Please Don't Call Me 'Activist'

06/05/2013 12:20 pm ET | Updated Aug 05, 2013

Right after I read the news (on Twitter of all places) that I had been sentenced to five years in prison in Egypt, I rushed to give my 19-month-old daughter a fever reducer as she had been battling a nasty virus for a few days.

When I actually heard the news of my initial indictment in early 2012, I was doing pretty much the same. I was taking care of my then four-month-old twins in the suburbs of Washington, DC. I was nowhere close to Egypt, which labeled me as a "fugitive" following the news of the charge against me along with 43 NGO workers including 11 Americans.

What was my crime? In a nutshell: Teaching Egyptian journalists how to tweet. More specifically, as a program director for the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), I trained Egyptian journalists and citizen journalists on social media with an emphasis on international journalism standards and ethics. Politics was never involved in any of the trainings, and I was never even stationed in Egypt.

I went to Egypt only twice while running the program, each time for a week or less.

According to the Egyptian judiciary system, I deserve to be shoved in an Egyptian prison for the horror that I committed. To them, we the convicted NGO professionals were all working "illegally" and deserved to be punished.

Since the verdict was issued, I had been asked by a number of people about "my feelings."

For me, it's all surreal, especially after Egypt had said that they will contact Interpol to come after us, the guilty ones, the ones who committed the sin of all sins.

Could this be happening? I'm being called a fugitive, accused of working illegally and sentenced to five years in prison, all while I'm pushing a double stroller in the suburbs?

One thing that I can't stop thinking about now is my own naiveté about the so-called "Arab Spring." I was naïve enough that I actually thought that some sort of a political reform was taking place in the Middle East. I cheered and yelled in joy when former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. It's finally happening, I thought back then. Change is coming to the Middle East, and it's a good one. I remember that day I changed my Facebook status to: "Today, I'm Egyptian." I was elated, among millions of others. Fast forward two years later, I'm facing prison by the same country that I cheered for. Any hope I had for a positive change in the Middle East has evaporated. It's gone and no one, no civic movement, a DC think tank, or a political statement will restore it.

This verdict also comes a few days after Jordan, the country where I was born, decided to censor the Internet by blocking various news websites for not "officially registering" their online services. "Arab Spring" anyone?

Reacting to the verdict, one of my friends told me that I am now officially an "activist." Am I? I don't think I want this label. All I want now is to be left alone. I want to raise my kids in the suburbs, and forget about the Middle East and its plethora of issues that keep haunting me. But that would simply not happen. Even if I decide to check out, and be your typical suburban cliché, I will remain forever haunted, not only by my own Arabness, but also by the fact that in this age of absurdity, I could somehow get plucked out from my family and put in an Egyptian prison. Hope, no more. It's a matter of survival now.