The blogosphere was shocked today when the AP published an article about an Egyptian blogger receiving a 4-year prison sentence for publishing content online that the Egyptian government deemed offensive to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

According to the Washington Post:

Abdel Kareem Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, an Islamic institution, was a vocal secularist and sharp critic of conservative Muslims in his blog. He also lashed out often at Al-Azhar, the most prominent religious center in Sunni Islam, calling it "the university of terrorism" and accusing it of encouraging extremism.

kareem.jpgNabil was part of a group of bloggers put on trial last year by the Egyptian government for publishing questionable materials online.  Other bloggers were freed, but due to what the Washington Post calls the "sensitivity" to Nabil's writings on religion, Nabil received a prison sentence.  Nabil's lawyer says they will appeal the decision, noting that the ruling will "terrify other bloggers and will negatively impact on the freedom of expression in Egypt."

We have all heard about Internet censorship in China, where many websites are blocked or content is edited to meet the Communist Party's regulations (TBR did several pieces on China: here, here, and here.)  The arrest of Kareem Nabil is a big disappointment, especially after several pushed for journalistic freedom in the country. Reporters without Borders, an international organization that protects journalists and reporters imprisoned for their writings, writes about a former announcement that was supposed to prevent journalists like Kareem Nabil from being punished for their opinions:

On 23 February 2004, the newly-elected president of the Union of Egyptian Journalists, Galal Aref, made an important announcement: President Mubarak had just telephoned him and had formally undertaken to abolish prison sentences for journalists in connection with their work. In effect, he was promising a major overhaul of the laws concerning press offences. Three years later, nothing has changed. Journalists still risk being imprisoned despite the semblance of a reform last year.

Apparently, legal rights for Egyptian journalists and reporters is a big farce:

Article 48 of the Egyptian constitution guarantees press freedom. But in practice, a string of laws have turned respect for this principle into an exception. In addition to the legal provisions for sentencing journalists to prison terms, the state of emergency in force since Mubarak became president in 1981 means that anyone suspected of disturbing the peace can be held without charge for six months or even more in some cases.

Further, according to Reporters without Borders, there are currently 35 offenses, "including defamation and insulting President Mubarak or a foreign head of state", for which a journalist or reporter can be imprisoned.

As a result of the imprisonment of Nabil and harassment of other Egyptian journalists, Reporters without Borders added Egypt to its list of "Internet Enemies", which includes some of the world's most secretive and isolated countries, like Burma and North Korea.  This is probably definitely not a group that Egypt wants to be lumped together with. 

This turn of events is truly disappointing, not just for online communities in Egypt, but for the international blogosphere as a whole.  Blogs are supposed to provide a space where individuals can discuss the issues that concern them the most, creating discussion with like-minded parties and debate with the opposition.  Stories like the account of Kareem Nabil really bring to light the limitations on freedom of thought that are often taken for granted and the unwillingness of some governments to let citizens think for themselves.  

Just think what the American blogosphere would be like if Americans couldn't insult politicians.  There would be no Wonkette, and certainly no blog posts like this one, which implies that everyone in the Bush administration is stupid.  If the US were anything like Egypt, the people involved with blogs like the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos would be in serious trouble–or more likely, these blogs wouldn't exist.  It's mind boggling to think that sources of opinion like these liberal blog networks, which have cemented themselves as avenues for both information and entertainment in the US, would be outlawed in many countries, with their authors severely punished.  For Americans, poking fun at domestic culture and politics is a way of life.  In countries like Egypt, with strict limits on journalistic freedom, these actions are virtually a death sentence.


If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend checking out the blog  They have a lot of non-mainstream info and pictures about this issue.  There are also several petitions posted that you can sign to show your support for Kareem.  Also, this blog has some excerpts from Kareem's blog.