When his daughter Hagar graduated from high school, Mahmoud Hussein clipped articles from newspapers about universities from the confines of his prison cell.
He wanted to be there for Hagar as she was about to embark on a new journey – higher education, and inform her of the best choices.
“When I visited, I found that he’d made a list of universities that are suitable for her,” says Zahra Hussein, Hagar’s sister.
At 23 years old, Zahra is the second oldest of Hussein’s nine children.
Wednesday marks one year since Egypt arrested the Al Jazeera journalist, who is now 51 years old having celebrated a recent birthday at Cairo’s Tora prison.
To date, Hussein has not been formally charged.
“We’re all unable to adjust,” says Zahra. “The house is dead. Dad is under arrest, so there is no happiness coming in.”
An Egyptian national who was based in Qatar, Hussein was stopped and questioned for 15 hours by authorities, after travelling to Cairo on holiday last December 20.
He was accused of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos”, allegations he, his lawyers and Al Jazeera strongly deny.
He is in poor physical and mental condition and is being denied adequate medical treatment.
After he fractured his arm last summer, officials refused to let Hussein undergo surgery or have his cast changed.
Human rights groups say there are currently around 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt, many of whom have disappeared.
There are at least 20 journalists currently languishing in Egyptian prisons, according to a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“I go through many phases of depression, and then I feel that I can’t continue,” says Zahra, who has adopted the role of family caretaker since her father’s arrest.
As Hussein was being branded a “terrorist who works for Al Jazeera” by Egypt’s media, her bosses sacked her, saying they could not risk keeping her employed. She now works from home as a freelance translator.
“I never wanted to be placed in this terrifying situation. I’ve always had this comforting idea that dad’s here. If any problem arises, dad will solve it.”
As part of his imprisonment, Hussein spent around three months in solitary confinement before being moved to a cell with other prisoners.
At the time of his arrest, Sherif Mansour of CPJ said: “Egyptian authorities are waging a systematic campaign against Al Jazeera, consisting of arbitrary arrest, censorship, and systematic harassment.”
Al Jazeera Media Network has said it “rejects all the baseless allegations against Hussein, and condemns the unfair detention, in addition to obtaining false confessions by force.
Furthermore, the network holds the Egyptian authorities responsible for Hussein’s safety and well-being”.
‘We are still convinced he is with us’
Hussein is the oldest of nine siblings and hails from a village within the Giza governorate.
The first member of his family to attend school, he has two degrees from Cairo University – one in political science, and another in law.
“I loved school very much,” he told Al Jazeera in a March 2016 interview for an internal staff magazine. “I used to be top of my class through high school.”
In 1988, Hussein started his journalism career as politics editor with the Cairo-based Sawt al-Arab Radio (Voice of Arabs Radio). He later became a broadcaster at the station.
During his years in radio, he also worked for several research centres in Egypt.
He joined the state-run Nile TV in 1997 as a political affairs correspondent, before later being promoted as the channel’s head of correspondents.
He spent years in Palestine where he interviewed Yasser Arafat, former chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and covered major events such as Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2006.
He then worked with several Arabic news channels, eventually becoming Sudan TV’s Cairo bureau chief. During those years, Hussein also taught at the Radio and Television Institute in Cairo, giving courses on news production and editing.
In 2010, Hussein joined Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau as a correspondent, after freelancing for the network. He covered Egypt’s 2011 revolution which toppled former President Hosni Mubarak and the events that followed, up until the closing of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau in 2013.
He then moved to Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, where he worked as a news producer.
Hussein is someone “who knows how news is made”, says Majed Khedr, his manager in Doha.
Sitting in Al Jazeera Arabic’s bustling newsroom, Khedr remembers Hussein’s ability to lighten the mood in a stressful work environment.
“What is unique about Mahmoud is his fun spirit. He has a good sense of humour,” Khedr says.
“He always brought food, and it was usually Egyptian food …This was Mahmoud’s spirit, God bless him.
“His name is still in our daily work schedule because we are still convinced he is with us.”
Anas Zaki, a news editor at Al Jazeera Arabic, described Hussein as someone who “was always there for his friends”.
The pair studied at university together and have been friends for more than 30 years.
If someone called Hussein in distress late at night, he would rush to their house and “never make him feel like he sacrificed his sleep or comfort”, Zaki says.
, he would have easily solved it.”]
According to Zahra Hussein, her father has expressed fears about his parents dying while he’s in prison. His mother suffers from heart complications.
Weekly visits are restricted to three people. With a large number of siblings and children, this means some relatives must wait months to see Hussein.
“Despite all my attempts, I feel like I can’t do anything for dad,” says Zahra.
“I feel like if he was outside and I was inside [prison], he would have easily solved it.
“I put my faith in God, but I mostly feel desperate.”
Source: Al Jazeera