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Analysis: Egyptian bloggers emerge as opposition voice

BBC Monitoring

Analysis by Muhammad Shokry of BBC Monitoring on 9 January

Arriving on the scene less than three years ago, Egyptian bloggers have made their presence felt through their posts and their active involvement in political life.

They have published videos which expose alleged human rights violations, and some bloggers have emerged as a force of opposition, not only against the government, but also within a key political grouping, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian blogs are becoming ever more popular, providing a platform to discuss political, social and religious issues in a country where freedom of expression is restricted.


Bloggers came to prominence in 2005, when they published images of alleged attacks on demonstrators during that year's referendum on a constitutional amendment. In 2006, they published videos of the alleged mass sexual harassment of women in central Cairo during Id al-Fitr.

They went on to post videos of torture incidents. One notorious example depicted a bus driver being sexually abused at a police station. The video sparked domestic and international outrage. Two police officers were jailed for three years in November 2007 for torturing the driver.

Interior ministry officials deny that torture is systematic in Egyptian prisons and police stations, maintaining that the exposed incidents are "individual cases".

"Golden Whip"

Some bloggers brought their work further into the limelight by planning an online festival of torture videos to run alongside the 31st Cairo Film Festival in late 2007.

According to the Middle East Times, the festival was the brainchild of a blogger called Walid. It aimed to feature "controversial acts of torture allegedly committed by security authorities".

Prizes, including a "Golden Whip", were earmarked for the winners.

"Parallel wedding"

Bloggers have taken to the streets over political issues.

On 4 May 2007, when the official wedding of Jamal Mubarak, the president's son, was under way at a hotel in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Shaykh, bloggers staged a "parallel wedding" in a public square in central Cairo under the slogan: "Congratulations Jimi and Khadija [on your marriage] but not [on] Egypt".

This symbolic wedding, according to Umar al-Hadi, the owner of the "Asad" [Lion] blog and one of the organizers, was intended as a message to Jamal Mubarak - "Congratulations Jamal, we wish you good luck and we are happy for you, but forget about the inheritance [of power], you have the right to get married, but you have no right to inherit us", the pan-Arab TV Al-Arabiyah website reported on 5 May 2007.

Muslim Brotherhood

Bloggers have emerged as a voice of opposition within the country's main Islamist-oriented political force - the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). On 4 November 2007, the independent daily Al-Dustur reported that MB-affiliated bloggers had launched a website parallel to the official website "Ikhwanonline".

The bloggers said they had launched the new site - "Ikhwanoffline" - because the official website had made many "professional mistakes".

Private daily Al-Misri al-Yawm on 11 November 2007 reported that a group of young MB bloggers had decided to establish a parallel MB Guidance Office (the highest authority in the group) and to elect a young general guide to replace Muhammad Mahdi Akif, the group's current general guide.

The move came after MB leaders allegedly accused the youths of "backwardness" and "triviality".

Echoes of Khomeyni

The ability to express opinions freely and fearlessly has boosted the popularity of blogs among Egyptians.

Wa'il Abbas, who runs the prominent Al-Wa'i al-Masri (Egyptian Awareness) blog, told Islamonline.net: "People trust us, because we convey information to them honestly and because we are interested in blogging the details of incidents concealed by the official media."

A book published recently by the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information estimated that Egyptian blogs - numbering around 3,000 - were read by some 30,000 people. The best-known are "Al-Wa'i al-Masri", "Ala and Manal", "Malkum X" and "Bahiyah". The latter is a US-based, English-language blog which publishes articles about Egyptian politics.

Dr Birlant Qabil, assistant lecturer at Cairo University's Faculty of Mass Communication, told Islamonline.net that Egyptian bloggers invoked memories of what Ayatollah Khomeyni had done befor! e the Iranian revolution from his exile in Paris, when he recorded his sermons onto cassette tapes, which were smuggled into Iran for his followers to copy and distribute. Dr Qabil said blogs would spark a "revolution" in political awareness.

Blogger behind bars

The bloggers' success in exposing torture cases has made them a target for the authorities.

On 22 February 2007, blogger Abd-al-Karim Sulayman was jailed for four years for insulting Islam and the president.

Sulayman was the first Egyptian blogger to stand a trial for internet postings. The UK-based organization Amnesty International described the ruling as "yet another slap in the face of freedom of expression in Egypt".

In November 2007, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information said Sulayman had been tortured while in custody.

In November 2006, international media freedom body Reporters Without Borders added Egypt to its list of "internet enemies" over the arrest of bloggers during pro-democracy demonstrations.

Source: BBC Monitoring research 9 Jan 08



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