CAIRO: Egypt’s blogging community was stupefied to find a comment by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif on a blog known for its opposition to the government.
One of the most heavily-criticized government officials in the blogsphere, Nazif confirmed that it was indeed he who posted the comment on “Ala Esm Masr (In Egypt’s Name), a blog with a noticeably socialist tone run by Mustafa Mahmoud.
Since the post appeared on Aug. 5, the blog has witnessed an unprecedented level of activity.
In his comment, Prime Minister Nazif lauded the dialogue between youth in the blogosphere and the way they freely express their opinions on the political and economic issues facing Egypt.
“Opinions raised in the blogs can be useful in directing the country’s general policies [and] that is what encouraged me to follow and participate with you, he said.
“You and your colleagues represent.a promising future with more democracy, he added, addressing the writer of the blog.
Readers of the blog were stunned to find Nazif’s comment, and many were skeptical of the true identity of the person who made it.
One commenter who called themselves Gabhet El-Tahyees El-Sha’biya (The Public Nonsense Front) asked for proof that the comment was actually made by the prime minister. On the other hand, “anonymous said that the writing style of the PM’s comment is similar to the one used by government officials, expressing satisfaction that their voices are being heard by the government.
Nazif confirmed his participation in the online discussion to Al-Masry Al-Youm, saying that he wanted to “clarify misunderstandings.
The PM commented on a post entitled “The privatization of education and the future of poor students, where Mustafa Mahmoud argues that the government has been working to gradually exclude the poor from higher education by selling public universities.
When this attempt failed, he continued, the government introduced “special sections inside public university faculties where the fees are higher and the quality of education is better.
In response to these allegations, Nazif said private education will never come at the expense of public education, and that the government will never forgo the concept of social equality.
The number of students accepted in universities since 1990/91 has increased 225 percent to reach 1.8 million students, Nazif added.
According to the 2007/08 national budget, government spending on education is LE 10.1 billion, a 40.9 percent increase over last year’s LE 7.2 billion.
Nazif’s comment is a sign that the government is paying closer attention to bloggers, whose role in politics has intensified over the past few years. The number of Egyptian bloggers is an estimated 160,000, according to a recent report released by the Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC).
Yet not everyone is giving Nazif’s participation the same weight. “He is just a puppet. His comment is not important, Malek Mostafa, author of the popular Malcolm X blog, told Daily News Egypt.
Because of their heightened political participation, bloggers in Egypt have been under scrutiny. A number of bloggers are currently on trial after taking part in the April 6 general strike.