And the award (quite literally) goes to…

By Monika Griefahn

The winner of the most recent Right Livelihood Award („Alternative Nobel Prize“) was announced back in November 2016. However, as the laureate, Mozn Hassan, was not allowed to travel outside of her native Egypt she wasn’t able to participate in the awards ceremony in Stockholm. But now the award has come to her. A delegation from our foundation, accompanied by members of  the German, Swedish and European parliaments, visited Cairo at the end of March in order to honour the work of the women’s right activist, Mozn Hassan, and her group, Nazra, and to present her with the award in person.

In doing so we are hoping to be able to amplify Mozn’s voice and to give strength to her and her fellow activists. For their situation is difficult. Because of its commitment to the equality of men and women the organisation is under constant threat of being shut down. Its accounts have already been frozen so that wages and rents can no longer be paid. With the help of a new law concerning NGOs the new Egyptian government is attempting to silence everyone in the country who doesn’t share its opinions. The law also makes it illegal to accept foreign funding for civil society work in Egypt. Even during the award presentation fear was a constant companion. But Mozn Hassan remained courageous and unthreatened. She joins our award’s long list of laureates who address the most pressing issues of our time – even if it poses a threat to their very lives.

For our delegation the trip to Egypt was an opportunity to experience first-hand the fragile situation in the country. At first it wasn’t clear at all whether we’d even be allowed to enter the country, or whether we’d really be able to use the room we’d rented for the ceremony. There were other, similar uncertainties. In the end everything worked out well and many committed individuals from Egypt’s civil society attended the evening’s celebration. Many felt encouraged simply by the fact that the Right Livelihood Foundation notices and honours them.

Unfortunately we cannot know how long the ostensible calm will last. The day after we visited Nazra’s offices the secret police showed up. How long the organisation will be able to continue its operations under such difficult conditions is unclear.

The following is the press release distributed by our foundation on the occasion of the awards presentation.

Egyptian women rights defender Mozn Hassan, who is barred from international travel and is facing a possible 25-year jail sentence, received her Right Livelihood Award at a private ceremony in Cairo earlier today.

Mozn Hassan shared the 2016 Swedish prize, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel’, with her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies “for asserting the equality and rights of women in circumstances where they are subject to ongoing violence, abuse and discrimination”.

Hassan could not attend the award ceremony in Stockholm last November due to a travel ban imposed on her and other prominent activists by Egyptian authorities. Her and Nazra’s assets are frozen as part of an ongoing investigation targeting several Egyptian NGOs that received foreign funding.

In her acceptance speech, Hassan stated: “The decision of the Right Livelihood Award to hold this ceremony in Cairo is truly significant as it means that appreciation and solidarity can reach you despite travel bans. Today, we feel that the work of Egyptian feminists, especially after 2011, is seen and valued by different actors around the world.”

The event, held aboard Le Pacha, was attended by some 150 guests, including leaders of Egyptian civil society, European and Egyptian parliamentarians, fellow laureates, diplomats and other dignitaries.

Presenting the prize, Monika Griefahn, Chair of the Board of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, said: “Mozn Hassan and Nazra for Feminist Studies embody the latest in a long line of leaders in the Egyptian feminist movement who have played an incredibly important role in shaping the nation’s progress towards gender equality.”

“The current sanctions against Mozn Hassan and Nazra are not only unjust, but they also make it more difficult for them to accomplish their important mission of empowering women in Egypt and the wider Middle East region,” Griefahn added, calling for all charges against Mozn Hassan to be dropped.

Also speaking at the ceremony, Lynn Boylan, Member of the European Parliament representing Sinn Féin, said “Across the world those who feel threatened by strong vocal women often try to dismiss them, to insult them. Feminism can never be defeated; each generation will continue to produce strong brave women until full gender equality is achieved.”

Cecilia Magnusson, a Member of the Swedish parliament, said: “There is work still to be done in Sweden regarding equality but it´s important that we who have accomplished a lot stand up for those who fight in countries where there is still much to do.”

Bärbel Höhn, Member of the German Bundestag, said: “In Germany, we have also had to fight hard for our rights. It needed a change in society, a change in the men’s minds, who were unwilling to give up their power. But it is a fact: a society that does not use the abilities of half of its citizens, the women, such a society cannot achieve the best results and is wasting opportunities.”

Mozn Hassan and Nazra are the third Right Livelihood Award Laureate from Egypt, after Hassan Fathy, known as ‘architect for the poor’, who received the inaugural prize in 1980, and development initiative SEKEM and its founder Ibrahim Abouleish, recognised in 2003.

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