Egypt: Bloggers Behind Bars?
Abdeel Kareem Soliman, a 22 year-old blogger from Alexandria, Egypt, has been sentenced by an Egyptian court to four years in prison—three years for “offending Islam,” and one year for offending Egypt’s long-time president, Hosni Mubarak.
Abdel Kareem Soliman’s trial was the first time that a blogger had been prosecuted in Egypt.
He had used his web log to criticise the country’s top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.
A human rights group called the verdict “very tough” and a “strong message” to Egypt’s thousands of bloggers.
Soliman, 22, was tried in his native city of Alexandria. He blogs under the name Kareem Amer.
A former student at al-Azhar, he called the institution “the university of terrorism” and accused it of suppressing free thought.
The university expelled him in 2006 and pressed prosecutors to put him on trial.
Amnesty International has referred to the court’s controversial ruling as “yet another slap in the face for freedom of expression in Egypt.” But Amr Gharbeia, another Egyptian blogger, told the BBC that “it is very difficult to control the blogosphere.” The prosecution of opinions, then, may be an inefficient deterrent for many.
Mubarak’s regime has been criticised for its stranglehold on Egyptian public opinion, especially amid strong suspicion that the president is grooming a son to succeed him. At any rate, such incomprehensible charges as those levelled against Mr. Soliman will become increasingly absurd and anachronistic in the face of technology that is shrinking gaps in communication at an exponential rate. The people of Egypt may find themselves in a unique position to teach the rest of the world something about freedom of speech—a lesson which is perhaps less needed in Egypt or Iran than in many countries where the privilege is complacently viewed to be ubiquitous.
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