CAIRO: With the arrest of Alaa Seif al-Islam on Sunday, Egyptian bloggers are feeling the heat. No longer are they under the radar of security personnel reading what they write on their Web sites.
Al-Islam was arrested along with 10 other activists on Sunday during a demonstration in solidarity with judges Mahmoud Mekki and Hisham Al-Bastawisy. Eight of them, including Al-Islam have been moved to Khalifa prison, where they will be held for at least 15 days. Under the Emergency Law, security forces may hold people up to 15 days without charge.
Al-Islam and his wife, Manal, maintain a website, www.manalaa.net, in which they distribute information concerning the actions of the government and the opposition groups in the country. Al-Islam has won international awards for his blog.
“It is obvious they sought him [Al-Islam] out and chose to keep him in prison, says Egyptian blogger Faisal. “They let three people go, so they had to have known who he was and what they were doing.
Al-Islam’s arrest and imprisonment is seen as a warning for other bloggers who have long seen their activism online as out of reach by the government. That is no longer the situation.
“Alaa takes it to the extreme, in both Arabic and English, so his audience is much larger and has gotten the attention of the people who are in charge, Faisal continues. “Inflammatory towards the government is an understatement.
Faisal tells The Daily Star Egypt that he was a bit of a skeptic when it came to blogs, believing that security personnel didn’t actually follow what was being said. However, with the arrest of Alaa, his views have changed.
“They [the security forces] had arrested a Canadian blogger who was writing all sorts of things about Muslim-Coptic relations last year and he hadn’t even been out protesting, Faisal adds. “But I had thought that was something that wasn’t the norm, but after Alaa, you never know.
Abdel Karim, the Egyptian-Canadian blogger, was released 18 days later after protest from abroad.
“Blogging is different for different people, Faisal believes. “If I went out and protested it would be different, as we have seen with Alaa.
With blogs gaining force in Egypt, it has become the new medium to disseminate views to a target audience. Manalaa.net receives approximately 2,000 hits per day, from abroad and in Egypt.
“As with a lot of print media, not a lot is widely read by the public, but they do give a good introduction into the world of the opposition forces, Faisal says. “Our blogs have more information then most of the opposition papers, so people are beginning to see them as a real source for information.
Faisal says that since Al-Islam’s arrest, a new blog has surfaced, freealaa.blogspot.com, which supports Al-Islam and his continued struggle to bring truth to the forefront of Egyptian politics and society.
“Blogs are useful, sure, but they are directed at a target audience, especially those in English, Faisal continues.
“If they are in English, then it is pretty clear that they are going to be read by a majority of people outside Egypt . but those in both Arabic and English have a lot of potential to create a medium for discussion that is needed in this country.
Most opposition blogs have been active in supporting their fellow bloggers and activists. Each day, in order to know what is going on in the Egyptian opposition, checking out a list of blogs is one of the best ways to find a demonstration or the number of arrests. They are often more accurate than many newspapers.
Al-Islam faces two weeks in prison before he is given a court appearance. It appears that he is heading to the same fate as his predecessors that received another 15 days in prison following their day in court on Monday.
With bloggers now being singled out by security forces, Faisal believes that the government is giving their last stand against all forces of opposition.
“They [security] can’t keep going on this way . it is the beginning of the end for the authoritarian power that has characterizes Egypt for far too long, Faisal argues.
“Alaa has made people aware and once people are aware of what is going on they will come together . at least I hope they will.