CAIRO: A group of eight Egyptian bloggers were sent to the Netherlands last month for six days as part of the Netherlands’ embassy’s cultural program.
The program was aimed at exposing them to the Dutch society to get a better understanding of Holland.
Blogging is rising, there are blogs associated with newspapers, independent blogs, opposition blogs, all these blogs are becoming quite popular. At the end they [have an] impact, explained Netherlands Ambassador to Egypt Susan Blankhart
Their itinerary included a visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Parliament, meetings with Dutch bloggers and attending lectures at universities.
I started blogging three years ago because I [lacked] the freedom to talk in public much like other girls in Egypt who face this problem, explained Inas Lotfy, author of the “Ayez Haqqi (I want my right) blog.
The bloggers explained that their trip changed a lot of the misconception about Holland. They agreed that the Netherlands is a “caring society with a generous welfare state and vibrant social networks.
Mohamed Hamdy, 25, author of the “Lakom Demaghkom wa ly Demaghy (You have your minds and I have mine) blog, explained that before travelling he thought the Dutch were people that cannot deal with others from different cultures.
He said this stereotype was triggered by some of the policies against immigrants, which arguably discriminate against Muslims.
We found out that only 20 percent of the population believes in this policy, and they are against immigrants in general not only Muslims, explained Hamdy.
Lotfy explained that the program was “intense and diverse. He praised the idea that girls were free to walk around of cycle “with no one looking or disturbing them.
She also observed that the Dutch like things to be efficiently organized, and tend to streamline and simplify, citing their complex social security system administered by a single government agency.
Lotfy added that “the country is made up of a very organized society that does not wait for the police to tell them what to do but they do it themselves.
Unlike in Egypt, people there respect the law for the sake of the law, we here in Egypt respect the law because we are afraid to be punished by the police.
Lotfy explained that blogging in Egypt is very different than in the Netherlands.
In Egypt our goals are different, we tend to write on our blogs because we cannot expose ourselves in the mainstream media, while in the Netherlands they write because they are free to write whatever they want, she said.
Wael Abbas, one of the bloggers who took part in the program, explained that he started writing a blog because the Egyptian media is not fair.
I would have never started a blog, if I had my fair chance in the media, explained Abbas.
According to Abbas, the Egyptian media controls all content related to the government and the growth of Egypt, omitting very vital details.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report in 2009 stated that Egypt imposes high restrictions on internet users and bloggers like Mohamed Khalaf and Abbas who are at odds with the government and faced trials.
We get followed in the streets, our telephones calls tapped, we are subject to military trials among other issues, explained Abbas.
Meanwhile, he continued, in the Netherlands they are free to talk about everything and anything.
However, Blankhart explained that In the Netherlands, everyone is allowed to criticize everyone, but if the criticism is not built on valid facts and somebody gets offended, then the blogger could be sent to court.
For Lotfy, blogging is a way to get people who share the same opinion together.
At first I used an alias because I was afraid, but then I started using my real name, she said.
Blankhart explained such programs offered by the embassy, the Netherlands is trying to provide fair chances for people.
We are not trying to be good, but we are trying to be fair, she said.