Friday, February 23, 2007

Blogger jailed for insulting Mubarak

A court in Alexandria, Egypt has sentenced a blogger to four years in prison on the charge of "inciting sedition" and "insulting Islam" after prosecutors read posts on his blog that called Al-Azhar university "terrorism university" and described President Hosni Mubarak as a "dictator". The now jailed blogger, Abdel Karem Soliman, knows just as well as everyone else in and outside of Egypt that Hosni Mubarak is a dictator. His only mistake, of course, was saying it in a place where the state's notoriously arbitrary justice system could link it back to him.

Mubarak, who has been the uncontested ruler of Egypt since the 1981 assassination of Egypt's previous dictator Anwar Sadat, can hardly be surprised or insulted by being called a dictator. After spending the past 25 years working as hard as he can to eliminate all political and social opposition to his rule, one would think he'd actually relish being called a "dictator" if only to justify all of the hard work he's put into the task.

Perhaps he's concerned about the "dictator" label affecting Egypt's warm relations with the United States? I can't imagine it. It hasn't exactly hurt Pervez Musharraf, now has it? Rather, it seems to be the insistence of many dictators to eschew the label simply to maintain an illusion that they are so beloved by their subjects that they have been granted a "natural political right" to rule as capriciously as they desire for as long as they live. For that reason, the word "dictator" is perceived as a vulgar reminder that unlimited authority in the hands of one person is, actually, an unnatural and undesirable state of political affairs.

If and when Abdel Kareem Soliman gets out of jail in four years (and from all accounts, jail time in Egypt is nothing to sneeze at - especially for political prisoners), he may be more careful about what he says about religion and politics. More likely, he'll do the sensible thing and just leave Egypt altogether, because Mubarak isn't leaving office until he dies. And like most sensible dictators, he's planned for that occurrence as well. If there's any consolation for Abdel Kareem Soliman, it's that internet usage in Egypt is only likely to increase, and there's no way a creaky police state like Egypt can stick all their fingers in every hole in the dike. At some point, people in Egypt are going to be speaking freely about politics and religion online, even while being denied the same in public, and there's really nothing they can do about it.

Now if only Zimbabwe and North Korea had a blogger community ...

UPDATE: Abdel Karim Soliman's father speaks out ... for his son to be executed!

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