Egyptian Bloggers Brave Police Intimdation

By Suzanne Choney
|  Thursday, Jan 27, 2011  |  Updated 11:15 AM PDT
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Egyptian Bloggers Brave Police Intimdation

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Anti-government protesters scatter after police fired tear gas at them during a demonstration in downtown Cairo, Egypt Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. Thousands of anti-government protesters, some hurling rocks and climbing atop an armored police truck, clashed with riot police Tuesday in the center of Cairo in a Tunisia-inspired demonstration to demand the end of Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30 years in power. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

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Their voices may not be the ones heard on the streets of Egypt, but what they're saying is coming through loud and clear over the Internet, via websites, blogs and social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter.

Egypt's bloggers are young, as much of the nation is, with the median age being 24. Noha Atef, 26, started blogging about five years ago, spurred by reports she read about Egyptian women who were being tortured in police stations.

She hasn't experienced such ugliness first-hand, but she and her family are threatened and harassed, she said in a recent interview with The Friday Bulletin.

"Police never beat me, but more than one time summoned me. I was advised by them to stop blogging, while my family were threatened of my disappearance, rape and 'punishment' if they didn’t stop me," she told the publication.

Her online work could be "easily interpreted as a text that 'encourages people to hate police,' which is a crime in Egyptian law," she said.

Such is the case for thousands of others whose laptops and cell phones are always at hand. Most are protesting not only their country's politics and President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, but what they say are human rights violations involving torture — and sometimes murder.

Their ranks include a support network, people like Ahmed Garbeia, a freelance software engineer who organizes workshops for bloggers, as well as human rights lawyers, and independent newspaper editors.

Sometimes, despite the support, the struggle is too much.

Blogger and political activist Shahinez Abdelsalam is one of those who recently emigrated to France, saying she was "too tired" of the battles.

"The Internet is open, fast and everywhere," says British photojournalist Anastasia Taylor-Lind, who is based in the Middle East. "But bloggers are routinely harassed, imprisoned, sometimes tortured and occasionally murdered."

Taylor-Lind says many bloggers "are the children of Cairo’s intellectuals, radicals and activists and they gather late into the night in the shabby downtown street cafes their parents inhabited in the 1960s and 70s, cafes like Al Borsah and Takeiba, where the conversation over mint tea or Arabic coffee is always revolutionary and anti-Mubarak."

However, she notes, "cyber activism ... comes at a price in Egypt, and bloggers are routinely arrested and imprisoned for speaking out. During these detainments, police torture is not uncommon and there are currently more than 20 people serving prison sentences for 'crimes' connected to cyber activism in the country."

Heba Saleh, writing in The Financial Times, said that "Egypt's young activists organise on the Internet and generally eschew ideology. They want democracy, social justice and an end to corruption, torture and police brutality. Their demands do not include Islamic rule or a government of any particular hue."

Facebook and Twitter are popular venues for contact, he said, and activists' "face-to-face meetings are rare. There is no single leader and those who organise the protests remain anonymous — which has generally kept them out of the hands of the police."

Saleh quoted one organizer, who wrote on Facebook: "I don’t know what will happen tomorrow and where I will be tomorrow night. I may be at home, protesting on the street, in prison or in my grave. But I know I have to go and get my rights."

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