The Egyptian government is cracking down on bloggers and writers who cover sectarian issues, journalist and website owner Hossam El-Hamalawy has said.
“To be frank, all the bloggers who have been arrested from their houses have been detained for [touching upon] religious matters. If other, [more politically oriented] bloggers are arrested, they are arrested at demonstrations, Hamalawy, whose blog is called 3arabawy (www.arabist.net/arabawy), told The Daily Star Egyp .
[The government] lets people say what they want, but when they talk about sectarian issues, such as oppression of Coptic Christians or Islamic fundamentalist [rhetoric], they go nuts.
El-Hamalawy mentioned numerous cases of bloggers who were arrested for commenting on sectarian issues, whether to highlight discrimination against Copts or, in one case, an Islamic fundamentalist who posted an anti-Coptic rant on his blog.
He added that in the case of political bloggers, they usually receive “phone threats . and intimidate you as in the case of Wael Abbas (a blogger who recently posted pictures of the alleged sexual attacks in downtown Cairo).
On Monday, Abdel Karim Suliman Amer, also known as Kareem Amer, a student blogger, was detained by state authorities and is being held in custody pending prosecution for his secular online writings in which he criticizes Islam, his lawyer told The Daily Star Egypt
The prosecutor’s office has remanded him for a further 15 days.
Freedom of expression is a basic human right. We believe that Kareem Amer has the absolute right to express his personal views. This case is a clear violation of universal human rights principles, Amer s lawyer Rawda Amed, says in an interview with The Daily Star Egypt
A former student at Al-Azhar University, Amer was reportedly expelled from the school in March 2006 because of his secular thoughts and online writings and critiques of Islam.
El-Hamalawy believes things may gradually get worse. The crackdown on bloggers “will get worse in the light of the recent press law ruling, they will go back to that whenever they need to. We will witness more crackdowns on bloggers.
El-Hamalawy added, “I find it ironic that we have an e-government led by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, yet the authorities’ attitude toward [Egyptian blogging] is like this.
The Daily Star Egypt contacted the Ministry of the Interior for further information on why Amer was arrested and whether blogs were being monitored. A spokesman asked that questions be faxed to the Ministry.
At press time, the Ministry had not commented or responded to further queries from The Daily Star Egypt.
Meanwhile, the journalists’ rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has added Egypt to the list of the worst suppressors of freedom of expression on the Internet.
RSF cited the cases of three bloggers arrested and detained for two months last June, in relation to their calls for democratic reform, as well as the harassment of other bloggers.
The organization has also expressed concern about a ruling in an Egyptian court that said that an Internet site could be shut down if deemed a threat to national security.
Egypt is one of 13 countries on the RSF Internet blacklist, listed alongside countries such as Cuba and Iran. Egypt is also ranked number 133 on the RSF’s annual press freedom index, which came out last month.
Journalism lecturer and director of undergraduate studies at the American University in Cairo (AUC), Professor Naila Hamdy told The Daily Star Egypt that the government crackdown on political bloggers calling for reform was a worrying sign.
“We originally started reasonably well with [Internet blogging] because at first there weren’t many individuals and they had little impact, but now it has changed. She added, “It’s not a terrible situation yet, but it is not a good sign when the government is looking to prevent freedom of expression on the Internet.
Hamdy states that now there is a larger audience for blogs, which might explain recent events. “They bring a lot of stories to light, most recently the downtown sexual harassment case. I cannot swear to the credibility of the stories or quality of reporting, but [the bloggers] have brought these stories to the national agenda, to television and newspapers, official and semi-official, she told The Daily Star Egypt.
Hamdy believes that the government is trying to control the blogosphere as it does traditional media. She says, “They are trying to extend the same kind of laws to the Internet as the ones [applicable] to the traditional press. To a certain extent they can control blogs. Bloggers are traceable and many of them make no secret of who they are.
The number of Egyptian blogs is nearing the 1000 mark with roughly 47% written in English.
“Only about 300 or so are political blogs, said Rania Maliki a journalist who has extensively researched Egyptian blogs.
“The [Amer case] is the first case of a blogger being prosecuted and interrogate only for possessing ideas that are deemed anti-Islamic or against the government, she told The Daily Star Egypt.
“Other bloggers were arrested when participating in demonstrations not taken from their homes.
On an additional note, the RSF removed Egypt’s neighbor Libya from the list, as it found no indication of Internet censorship in the country, although the organization still considers Libyan leader Muammar El-Qaddafi a “predator of press freedom. Additional reporting by Alexandra Sandels.