Liam Stack in Cairo, aljazeera.net, Feb. 24, 2008
Cindy Sheehan, an American activist who was nicknamed the "Peace Mom" by the media for her criticism of the Iraq War, retreated from her public campaigns in 2007.
The death of her son Casey, a US soldier, in a Baghdad battle in 2005 had transformed Sheehan into a public figure in the US.
But she resurfaced in Cairo last week as a member of a delegation from the Muslim American Society which is in Egypt to protest against the military trial of 40 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
She spoke to Al Jazeera about her journey from peace activist to Congressional candidate, her thoughts on Iraq and her experiences in Egypt.
Al Jazeera: You first became famous for your protests against the Iraq war in August 2005, but you have not been an active anti-war figure for a while now. What happened?
Sheehan: In May 2007, I decided to quit actually being the face of the anti-war movement in America. I quit and I have not gone back to that. When I left the movement I was broke, I was tired, I was sick – literally sick and in pain.
I wanted to just totally be out of the political realm and not have anything to do with it. The establishment that runs our country just disgusted me and I was tired of it. It is very corrupt and I definitely saw that when I was focusing on anti-war activism.
The leaders of both parties work together to keep normal people out of the process. In many ways the Democratic leadership, especially in Congress, has been complicit with George Bush, the US president, in his crimes against humanity.
How can [Democratic Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi say unequivocally that water-boarding is torture and that Bush and [Richard] Cheney, the US vice-president, should not only be impeached but they should be charged with war crimes when in 2002 she herself was briefed on water-boarding and shown video of the rendition places where water-boarding happened?
Impeaching George Bush was a popular demand among liberal Americans at one time, but very few people talk about it anymore. Is that what turned you into an activist again?
When George Bush commuted [vice-presidential aide] Scooter Libby's sentence, the Democrats in Congress didn't do anything about it. When the Administration said they would not cooperate with subpoenas against [presidential aide] Harriet Myers, the democrats didn't do anything about it.
That's what pulled me back into activism. I thought how can they do that? How can they say 'I'm just not going to come to your stupid trial,’ and no one will say anything about it?
When the Democrats took impeachment off the table, I decided enough was enough. On July 23, 2007, I officially announced that I was running for Congress against Nancy Pelosi.
Why the focus on Nancy Pelosi?
I decided if Nancy Pelosi wasn't going to put impeachment on the table then I would run against her.
You can't take any part of the Constitution off the table, even though they have rendered it almost meaningless between George Bush and Karl Rove. Since they came to power they have institutionalised torture and spying against Americans.
They have passed the Military Commissions Act and just done away with habeas corpus. They have practically rendered it meaningless. That is why I decided to challenge Pelosi for her seat. I always say if you want change you have to vote out the enablers, and Pelosi is the biggest enabler there is.
If your new focus is on unseating Nancy Pelosi, what are you doing in Egypt?
My anti-war work evolved into work for global human rights because I saw the problem was much deeper than just George Bush.
It's about militarism and violence, globalisation and free trade.
I decided I wanted to do human rights work on behalf of people around the world who have been harmed by US imperialism.
Part of why I am here, also, is to draw attention to the parallels between the military courts here and the same kinds of courts that are being used to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay by the US.
If this becomes the standard for the world, and there is no international outcry, then everyone is in big trouble.
But what does the US have to do with a military trial in Egypt?
Egypt is a major recipient of US foreign aid, and there is no relationship between American aid and human rights.
If we [America] really want to promote democracy in this region then we cannot silence the voices of the Muslim Brotherhood because they're the moderate voice here and they are the ones who are actually working for democracy.
Do you think your presence in Egypt will have an effect on the trial?
Well, we have been doing a lot of media work since we came to Egypt and we hope this will put pressure on the Egyptian government to treat the prisoners better and to also maybe alleviate their punishment.
Hopefully we will draw some international attention to what is happening here, too, and that will help the situation.
You also went to the National Council of Women in downtown Cairo to request a meeting with Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt's First Lady. How did that go?
I didn't really understand a lot of what was going on. There was a lot of yelling in Arabic. They weren't the right people to get us a meeting with Suzanne Mubarak ... I left a letter for Madame Mubarak and they promised that she would see it.
We thought it was important to go there because there are women and children who are being harmed by having their fathers and husbands detained, so I wanted to talk to Suzanne, mother to mother.
We brought along mothers and wives of the detainees and they were actually able to file complaints, and it was really great.
Have you spoken to many of the families of the defendants in the military trial? Have you spoken to many female members of the Brotherhood mother-to-mother?
My conversations with the mothers and children of the detainees have been really emotional. They told me about the hardships [the arrests and trials] have placed on their families, from financial hardships to emotional and physical hardships.
It is very emotional for me because my family has gone through the same things since my son died. It has been really hard for us.
People always say to me, 'Cindy, why do you always make everything personal?'.
But in the end, everything affects people, whether it's war or economics or human rights violations. I don't think politicians who make political decisions necessarily think about how they are going to affect people and their families.
That is why when I meet people who have been harmed by the policies of their own countries, or the policies of my country, it just makes me resolved to work harder to make the world a better place.