You're invited: Join Daniel Pipes & MEF on a fact-finding mission to Poland, Hungary & Austria. For more information, click here.

The Egyptian crackdown on liberal dissent expands to the Internet

On November 6, 2006, Egyptian security forces in Alexandria arrested 22-year-old Abdul Karim Nabil Sulayman, better known by his pen name Karim Amir, for posting articles critical of the state and Islam on a personal blog. His arrest occurred the same day Reporters without Borders added Egypt to its "worst suppressors of Internet expression" list.[1]

Amir has a long history of defiance. After he wrote about Christian-Muslim strife in Alexandria in October 2005, police stormed his house, confiscated documents, and detained him for eighteen days.[2] Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious institution for Sunni religious scholarship in the Arab world, expelled him for secularism and filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office when, in March 2006, he questioned some religious teachings and suggested that the regime of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was destined for "the dustbin of history."[3]

Although Egypt's cyber-dissidents number only in the low thousands, the Egyptian blogosphere is gaining ground as Egyptians seek photos and news accounts absent from the state-run media. But as online forums become infused with politics, they have drawn the government's ire. Some groups use websites to mobilize anti-government rallies. In May 2006, Mubarak warned, "If they [the bloggers] think what they are doing is an expression of their freedom, they should remember who gave them this chance."[4]

He did not wait long to crack down. Police attacked peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in Cairo later that month, arresting six bloggers, including 24-year-old Muhammad al-Sharqawi, previously featured on this page.[5] The next month, a state court upheld a government decision to shut down any website threatening national security.[6]

Though Amir's plight is not unique—the Egyptian regime has held other prisoners of conscience indefinitely under its emergency law—it marks a new phase in Mubarak's attack on free expression. Amir is the first blogger snatched from his home solely for his ideas. Earlier arrests focused on participants in street protests.

As Mubarak accelerates his campaign against the blogosphere, there is little cause for optimism. One blogger, Hissam el-Hamalawi, believes the situation "will get worse. We will witness more crackdowns on bloggers."[7] Despite such concerns, Washington has yet to weigh in. Given the pace of Egypt's repression, it will soon not matter.

Jeffrey Azarva is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

[1] Reuters, Nov. 7, 2006.
[2] Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), Nov. 17-23, 2005.
[3] Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), Nov. 11, 2006; The Daily Star Egypt (Cairo), Nov. 7, 2006.
[4] Al-Jumhuriya (Cairo), May 30, 2006.
[5] Jeffrey Azarva, "Dissident Watch: Muhammad al-Sharqawi", Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2006, p. 96.
[6] The Daily Star Egypt, Nov. 9, 2006.
[7] Ibid.