The blogger and the pharaoh
|Monday, February 26,2007 00:00|
THE WILL to silence free speech is a defining trait of autocratic and dictatorial regimes. The rulers of such states do not merely fear the contagion of dissent, they become so addicted to the flattery of courtiers that they develop a pathological sensitivity to all forms of criticism. Judging by the four-year sentence handed out to a young Egyptian blogger last week -- three years for disparaging Islam and one for insulting President Hosni Mubarak -- Egypt’s government is suffering from an acute case of hypersensitivity.
The blogger, Abdel Kareem Nabil, offended Islamist radicals as well as Egypt’s political rulers with a posting in 2005 that decried anti-Christian riots that year in Alexandria. He described beatings he had witnessed of Egyptian Copts and the looting of Coptic-owned stores. These riots were incited by Islamists complaining that a play staged in a Coptic church insulted their religion.
Writing under the blogonym Kareem Amer, the 22-year-old former law student recounted how Islamist rabble-rousers egged the crowd on with incendiary slogans. He wrote of seeing mobs rampaging through a liquor store owned by a Coptic merchant, stealing bottles of alcohol as well as money from the cash register, but leaving another liquor store owned by a Muslim untouched.
What apparently provoked some Islamists to demand that the blogger be executed was his suggestion that the "brutality, inhumanity, and thievery" he observed during the Alexandria riots owed their origin to "the teaching of Islam by extremists." In other postings, Amer called Egypt’s famed Islamic university Al-Azhar, from which he had been expelled, "the other face of the coin of Al Qaeda." And in yet another blog he called Mubarak "the symbol of tyranny."
Amer was punished for offending both of the major contending forces in the domestic politics of Egypt: the Mubarak regime and its Islamist foes. In anticipation of April parliamentary elections, the government has taken some 300 members of the relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood into custody, subjecting many of them to military trials and seeking to dismantle financial networks supplying funds to the Brotherhood. The trial and conviction of the blogger is the regime’s way of killing two birds with one stone: silencing its secular critics while simultaneously making a show of defending Islam.
But the heart of free speech must be the inviolate right to offend even the most powerful forces in a society. This is a truth too often forgotten -- not only by autocratic states but also in liberal democracies. Amer the blogger deserves to be defended by democrats everywhere. Astonishingly, Egypt is campaigning to be host of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum in 2009, and the world’s democracies could start by opposing that bid.
El-Adly Video Gate
Abd Mon’em Mahmoud, Ana-Ikhwan Blog