Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blogging in Egypt a Dangerous Endeavor

Egypt is rapidly becoming one of the worst places to blog. The country has been placed on the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CPJ) "Ten Worst Countries to be a Blogger" list, alongside other well-known culprits such as China, Iran, and Cuba. And this last week alone, three bloggers were detained and held without charge.

Abdel Rahman Ayyash (Al-Ghareeb) and Magdi Saad (Yalla Mesh Mohem) were arrested at the Cairo airport on July 21, 2009 after returning from trips abroad. Ahmad Abu Khalil (Bayarek) was arrested at his home after an early morning raid by security forces. To date, Ayyash is believed to be held by security forces in Mansoura while Saad is being detained at security forces headquarters in Cairo. Khalil's whereabouts remain unknown.

These arrests occurred three weeks after one of Egypt's most famed blogger, Wael Abbas, was detained for a day at the Cairo Airport while returning from Sweden, where he had openly criticized the Egyptian government. Abbas is one of Egypt's leading bloggers and his blog, Misr Digit@l , averages a million visits a month. Abbas, an IT specialist, began blogging in 2005 but shot to blogosphere fame in 2007 when he posted video of police officers carrying out acts of torture in a police station. Abbas' blog post led to the rare arrest and conviction of the police officers involved, and inspired many Egyptians to begin blogging. But he has also encountered increasing persecution for his blogging activities.

Most recently, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced that the organization had been helping Tamber Mabrouk and his family after Mabrouk was singled out for denouncing his employer, Trust Chemical Industries', dumping of untreated waste water. As a result of Mabrouk's posts on his employer's practices, as well as other corruption within the Egyptian Government, Mabrouk lost his job, was forced to leave his apartment after he was threatened with eviction, and was ordered to pay a 6,000 euro fine, more than 100 times the average monthly wage in Europe. RSF has been providing financial support to Mabrouk and his family while he struggles to find new employment.

The word "blog" is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer ; also : the contents of such a site." In 2004, the word was picked as Merriam-Webster's "Word of the Year" after topping the list of most looked-up terms ,and in 2005, it was officially included in the dictionary. At it's essence, a blog, along with the multitude of free blog-hosting websites in existence today, offer the citizen journalist ample opportunity to share thoughts and information with the rest of the world. Blogs represent the best use of modern technology encouraging the free flow of expression. Any restriction imposed on blogging, and any reprimand for blogging activities, constitute an egregious violation of freedom of expression and significantly lessen the quality of a free flow of ideas worldwide.

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