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Earlier this month, two police officers were sentenced to ten years for the torture and manslaughter of blogger, Khaled Said. But this ruling does not mark change for Egypt’s political system. Instead, it is a token gesture set against a catalogue of abuse.
Three years on from the revolution, Egypt seems tired of turmoil and apathy is mounting. The youth movement, April 6, made the decision to boycott the recent referendum and the idea spread. Although the country’s younger generation makes up a quarter of the population, only a tiny minority turned up to vote. Their absence meant the new constitution was approved by more than 98%.
However political activist, Salma Said believes this low attendance was down to a different issue. “The youth didn’t participate because the youth are in jail”, she said via Twitter.
Her comment highlights the alarming increase of politically motivated arrests. There is a clear targeting of bloggers, journalists and activists. In Egypt, the price for dissent is high.
Leading bloggers Ahmed Douma, Ahmed Maher and Mohammed Adel are among those who are currently in prison. Sentenced to three years with hard labour and a fine of EGP 50,000, they were arrested for their defiance of a new law restricting protest.
Yet it seems their real crime is their criticism of authority, paired with online influence – collectively they have nearly 4 million followers on Twitter. In prison, the injustices continue. Earlier this month, they complained of being beaten by guards, which is not the first time they have suffered mistreatment in jail.
Their arrests are part of a crackdown on dissent – their imprisonment is an attempted gagging.
At the beginning of the year, Alaa Abdel Fattah became another high profile blogger to be arrested, along with his sister Mona Seif. Accused of torching the campaign headquarters of a former presidential candidate, the pair firmly protested their innocence but each received one year suspended sentence.
Mona Seif is vocal in her consistent criticism of the SCAF, the Egyptian military’s governing body. She works to expose the SCAF’s targeted arrests of protestors and their mistreatment of detainees. An ongoing part of her project involves asking those who have been released to record their experience and to document any injuries suffered in jail.
While Seif was released, Fattah was not. More accusations were brought against him, this time of inciting protest – a charge for which he spent 115 days behind bars without trial. He was eventually released late last month and is now awaiting trial on April 6. He showed his resolve on Twitter: “We will continue….”
Again, Fattah’s arrest seems to be punishment for his activity online. In 2005, he won the ‘Reporters without Borders’ prize for his hugely popular blog ‘Manalaa’, gaining international attention. He was one of the leading faces in 2011’s revolution and he is still a firm advocate of free expression.
The crackdown on government critics and pro-democracy campaigners has shaken Egypt’s internet generation, leaving them with a feeling of powerlessness. In a letter dated December 24, Alaa Abdel Fattah wrote to his sisters: “What adds to my frustration is that this imprisonment has no value. This is no struggle and there is no revolution”.
Award winning blogger, Sandmonkey shares Fattah’s beaten attitude in a post where he addresses the country’s older generations: “Our depression stems from our knowledge that you will not fix anything.”
As mainstream media returns to its pre-revolution ways by siding with the government, it seems the blogger’s role is more important than ever. Independent voices must be heard. But support is fading for revolutionaries as newspaper headlines and editorials brand them “anarchists” and “thugs”.
Many Egyptians seem happy to sacrifice certain freedoms for stability. With liberal commentators being squeezed out of political discourse and into prison, the public begin to believe that an authoritarian state is the only alternative to Islamic extremism.
For years, Egypt’s bloggers have been subject to savage beatings, intimidation and even sexual assault at the hands of the police. Today, it seems that little progress has been made despite the revolution. With many figures of hope in jail or exile, the future seems bleak. Fattah believes it’s as if they’ve waged “war on a whole generation.” But Egypt’s youth must not give up the fight.
This article was published on 4 April 2014 at indexoncensorship.org
Imprisoned blogger Maikel Nabil ended his 130-day hunger strike on Saturday after being transferred to a prison hospital on 1 January following allegations of abuse in the jail where he has been held since March 2011.
Mark Nabil, the blogger’s brother, reported that Maikel was assaulted in the prison following a 30 December visit. The next day his lawyer filed a complaint with the attorney general and the allegations are now being investigated.
According to Mark, an inmate beat his brother, and his complaints were ignored. He said police officers threatened to frame Maikel for religious contempt against the inmate, a former police officer imprisoned on murder charges who allegedly receives special treatment in jail.
Nabil, who was recently sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the military and “spreading false information” on his blog, went on hunger strike in order to draw attention to his case and expose the injustice of Egyptian military trials.
On 28 December, he wrote a blogpost from prison, slamming statements made by Mukhtar Al-Mulla, the general of Egypt’s ruling military council. Al-Mulla had dismissed concerns about the well-known cases of activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Nabil, saying that even though both “are Egyptian citizens”, and are “keen to protect all Egyptians,” they were only discussing “one citizen out of 85 million.”
Quoting John Stuart Mill, Nabil said:
If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
Nabil then addressed his pleas to Egyptian society:
I am addressing myself to society, a society that was taught to accept the violation of One Citizen’s rights for the greater good of the community, as if the power that oppresses one will be able to later respect the rights of the community. This society that has accepted the displacement of the Nubian community in the name of national interest, that has accepted the expulsion of Egyptian Jews, the confiscation of their property, the revoking of their nationality, in the name of the interests of the majority. The same society that has sequestered gay rights, that has limited the individual freedoms of individuals under the guise of maintaining the family system and the interests of the greater society. It is time for the 85 Million to understand that their freedom is tied to the freedom of that One Citizen, that all freedom is lost once they allow the wolf to choose the first victim from amongst the herd, that they cannot regain the freedom of society unless every One Citizen is free.
Veteran Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah has finally been released pending investigation from the Cairo Criminal Court Sunday after being detained for 56 days.
He comes home to his family and his 20-day-old son, who was born while his father was detained. Little Khaled was named after Egypt’s martyr, Khaled Said, who was brutally beaten to death by police informants outside an Internet café in Alexandria on June 6, 2010.
Alaa was detained by military court after refusing to answer any questions directed at him and instead remained silent, as he does not recognise military trials for civilians as being legitimate. He knew there would be a price to pay for that— and indeed he did pay. Alaa’s case was finally transferred to a civilian judge recently. Yesterday, the same judge re-started the investigation process, and soon afterwards released Alaa pending investigations.
Alaa had to go back to Torah prison, his detention place, for his release orders to be processed. He was then transferred to Cairo Central Security, where he was finally released.
The blogger was greeted by a slew of media outlets, and only moments after his release, he fiercely attacked military rule. He told the media that the real triumph would only come when the army generals who shot the protesters at Maspiro would be put through a fair trial. A mini protest followed, chanting “Down with military rule.”
Alaa wanted to stop by Tahrir Square before going home, so his family and some friends including myself, took him there. He was treated like a celebrity in Tahrir. People rushed at him to say their hellos and hug him. Friends who learned he was free from Twitter joined in Tahrir. Alaa immediately gave a passionate impromptu speech about what the revolution means, and what should happen next.
He eventually made it to his parents’ house much later, where he finally had a chance to enjoy his family, his wife activist and blogger Manal Hassan, who endured his absence as her pregnancy was coming to term, and his precious Khaled.
ALAA IS FREE.
Rasha Abdulla is an associate professor at the Journalism and Mass Communication Department of the American University in Cairo. An advocate for freedom of expression, Abdulla has published several books and writings on Internet use and digital activism in Egypt and throughout the Arab World. You can follow her on Twitter:@RashaAbdulla
Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah (@alaa) has reportedly been released, after being detained since 30 October. Abdel Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif (@monasosh) sent a twitter message saying that Abdel Fattah will be released. While Abdel Fattah has been released, the charges against him have not been dropped, according to his father and lawyer, Seif Hamad (@seifhamad). More updates to come.
2:43 PM: Mona Seif posted a picture of Abdel Fattah’s official release, where he is holding his newborn son, Khalid.
2:45 PM: Mona Seif tweeted that the now-released Abdel Fattah is headed to Tahrir Square with supporters.