Writing as a subversive act

If I were to ask readers of the New Internationalist magazine which country they think is most dangerous for bloggers and free media in general, I am sure many would say Zimbabwe. In fact, it is Egypt, followed by Morocco.

On 7 May 2006, Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was arrested during a demonstration in Cairo in support of other activists who had also been arrested for supporting two judges who had criticized President Mubarak. This was still in the early days of blogging; nonetheless, as soon as the news was released, bloggers from across Africa and elsewhere, led by Global Voices, immediately began a campaign to have Alaa released.

Various actions were taken, among them an online petition, a Free Alaa blog, special badges and a ‘Google Bomb’. The latter entailed bloggers writing a short post with the word ‘Egypt’ repeated and hyperlinked; it increased the likelihood of people finding out about Alaa’s arrest.

Alaa was eventually released and continues, along with a number of other Egyptian bloggers, to use his blog and social media in protests and campaigns against repression in his country.

In fact, Egypt is full of bloggers who have been arrested. Take Mus’ad Abu Fagr, released in June after two years in prison. Noha Atef, who has a blog dedicated to reporting torture in Egypt, writes:

‘Though more than eight release orders were issued to him since his arrest on 26 December 2007, the Ministry of Interior used to renew each time his detention. The decision to set Abu Fagr free came as part of an effort to reduce growing tensions between Egyptian Security Services and Sinai Bedouins. Abu Fagr himself was among 68 other Bedouins released from jail.

The Sinai activist and novelist Fagr is blogging at Wedna Ne3eesh (We Want to Live) where he writes about the demands of Sinai Bedouins, expressing their life and seeking equal rights of citizenship.’

Mus'ad Abu Fagr's daughter.

Two other high-profile bloggers are Wael Abbas and Abdelkarim Nabil Soliman. I met Wael in March during a workshop on info-activism in Bangalore, India. He is an amazing young man who has dedicated his life to exposing the violence and repressions of the Egyptian police and state.

For this, Wael has been arrested many times, has spent many days in jail and is constantly harassed by the government. Nevertheless, he refuses to stop and continues photographing and videoing acts of violence by the Egyptian state (examples of Wael’s work are here and here).

In an almost-interview with Wael, Yale Journal of Human Rights wrote this:

‘Wael Abbas has received awards from CNN, the BBC, and Human Rights Watch for his uncensored, honest, and humanitarian blogging, which speaks the truth about human rights atrocities committed by the Egyptian government. His posts dwell deep into Egypt’s human rights abyss: exposing the most cruel and inhumane aspects of Egyptian society that are usually ignored by the ordinary people and government alike.

But bloggers beware. When he posted a video of an Egyptian bus driver being sodomized with a stick by Egyptian police, Wael temporarily had his Youtube and Yahoo accounts suspended. His Facebook has been deactivated.’

Most recently, the campaign for the release of blogger Abdel Karim Nabil Soliman, who has been blogging under the name Kareem Amer, has intensified as his prison sentence ran into four years.

Kareem, a student at the religious Al-Azhar University, was arrested for voicing his opinion on Islamic extremism. In 2006, he was expelled from his Alexandria-based school; his case was sent to the state prosecutors and he was sentenced to four years in prison.

Why was he expelled from Al-Azhar University?

In early March 2006, Kareem was told to attend a disciplinary board at the university’s Sharia & Law Faculty on Damanhour Campus. He was confronted with articles he had posted on his personal blog, as well as on Modern Discussion and Copts United.

Articles he was questioned on included those that spoke of his secular opinions, criticized the university’s gender segregation policy, and disagreed with Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh’s pressuring the Islamic Research Academy to pledge allegiance to President Mubarak.

Kareem did not deny writing those articles, stating that they represented his own personal opinions and that they were published on the internet, not on the campus premises.

On Monday 15 November Kareem was finally released. He served 1,470 days in prison. I wish Kareem and his family peace of mind and hope one day he will be able to speak again.

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