May 12, 2006
Egyptian Activist Blogging From Prison
The mainstream media is starting to pick up on what happened to Egypt’s prominent blogger and activist Alaa Abd El-Fatah earlier this week. Today’s Boston Globe ran a story on the clashes between demonstrators and security officials in Egypt after the government arrested 11 political reform activists.
The (UK) Guardian also reported today that El-Fatah has started blogging again from his prison cell by smuggling out notes on paper. If you check out his blog, he says some of his fellow protestors in jail are on a hunger strike. With the attention his case has received, I hope the activists will be released soon. So far, there is no indication that the men have been tortured.
Human Rights Watch first reported the detention on Tuesday when El-Fatah was first detained:
“These new arrests indicate that President Mubarak intends to silence all peaceful opposition,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “The activists detained over the past two weeks should be released immediately, unharmed. The Egyptian government is responsible under international law for their safety.”
HRW said that more than 100 people have been detained the past two weeks for exercising freedom of expression. Most of the activists have been campaigning for greater judicial independence. This comes after an organization of judges refused to certify the results of last year’s parliamentary elections after more than 100 of the judges reported irregularities at polling stations.
El-Fatah was charged with illegal assembly, blocking traffic, insulting President Mubarak, and verbal abuse of police officers at the time of his arrest. He is co-author of the blog Manal and Alaa’s Bit Bucket and is one of the most active people working to support the blogosphere in Egypt. His site is an aggregator collecting almost all Egyptian bloggers. It won a prize last year in a blog competition organized by Reporters Without Borders .
Other bloggers arrested are Malek Mostafa , Mohammed Adel , Mohammed Sharkawy Karim El Shaer and Asmaa Ali . El-Fatah’s is the only one of these blogs with posts in English. I don’t know if there is translation software or another way to convert the other blogs from Arabic to English, so a wider audience can read them.
If President Hosni Mubarak intended to silence the opposition, arresting free-speech activists yielded the opposite effect. While the Egyptian government has said it was making some changes in the country, clamping down on peaceful protestors shows it has no tolerance for dissent. On April 30, the government extended the country’s Emergency Law for two more years. The law has been in place since Mubarak took office in October 1981. It prohibits demonstrations and public rallies and allows the authorities to detain individuals without charge.
What we are seeing in Cairo are a push for democractic reform. The actions of the blogging community; expressing outrage with their governement and petitioning the release of activists is grassroots journalism at its best. This is why people like El-Fatah post on their blogs everyday. It’s an effort to mobilize and organize people at the local levels.
There is a lot of more information on El-Fatah’s arrest on Egyptian blogs. Much more than I was able to find through traditional media. Sabbah and SandMonkey have good content on what’s been happening in Cairo the past few weeks. Sandmonkey, who posts anonomously continues to run his blog with regular updates on the protests. There are also distrubing pictures of police brutality against demonstrators in Cairo.