CAIRO: Looking through Egyptian political blogs over the past two weeks, one particular subject keeps coming up; the detention of blogger and former Al-Azhar University student Abdel Kareem Sulaiman.
Allegedly, ‘Kareem,’ as he is now being referred to across the blogscape, was detained because of his ‘critical writings about Islam,’ and various other ostensibly ‘intellectual’ offenses. The case has created a palpable dose of both anger and anxiety as bloggers, both local and abroad, wonder what it might mean to them, what it might mean to freedom of speech and what it says for the future of individual political activism in Egypt. According to Amnesty International, Kareem was charged with “an array of offences, including ‘spreading information disruptive of public order,’ ‘incitement to hate Muslims’ and ‘defaming the president of the republic.’
That’s quite a list.
Incredibly enough, Kareem, at what could be called the hormonal and righteous age of 22, has offended quite a lot of people in all the wrong places. A young man, barely into his second decade, has somehow, apparently, by the mere utterance of his thoughts, been deemed so much of a threat that his university actually filed an official complaint against him.
Think about that for a moment, and if it seems confusing, you’re not alone.
Reading Kareem’s writing, you might find the case even more mystifying, as his writings simply do not exude that much power, and despite the evidence of youthful passion, hardly strike the reader as dangerous. Whatever danger might lurk in his writing has been mostly created by the reaction to it and will continue to be dramatized so long as the criminality of his actions has not been clarified.
In fact, rather than consider the case frivolous, the authorities extended Kareem’s detention, leaving many bloggers wondering what horrors he might have been subject to.
Yesterday, I was woken up by my bawab, a decent, slightly younger man than myself. He told me that a public bus had hit my car while I was asleep. He had run after the bus until he reached the bus stop a couple of hundred meters away and had brought back to me all the information I could possibly need: the driver’s name and the number of the bus. An admittedly idealized notion of civic duty cost me half a day at the police station as I reported the incident, hoping that by fussing about the negligence of public drivers the scales of justice might eventually tip, if only just a bit. It took a long four hours, during which I was told by the officer in charge that had I chosen to press for damages, I might, conceivably, get a ruling within . well, years.
When I read the blogs discussing Kareem’s detention and later, the extension of that detention, I recall the incredibly slow speed at which the justice system is known to move in Egypt, how slow it has moved for me and how slow it moves for most Egyptians, and I consider the frightful notion that although the detention itself does not seem to have been well considered, the extension could, conceivably, be due to simple negligence. The question that I suspect most bloggers would like answered is whether Kareem was a suspect who just happens to be a blogger or whether he was a suspect due to his blogging.
Fortunately, there’s more to life, and to blogs, than politics.
Omar Kamel is a musician, video producer, and writer. He maintains a blog at http://septic.blogspot.com and updates it whenever he can’t find a gun.