Blogging all the way to jail

In Egypt, bloggers are talking about issues that the traditional media fail to report on. And they are going to jail for it.
By Yolla Ahmed, Contributor
Egyptian blogger Abdul Karim Suleiman, a.k.a Karim Amer, after being sentenced to four years in prison. (AFP)
Egyptian blogger Abdul Karim Suleiman, a.k.a. Karim Amer, after being sentenced to four years in prison. © AFP

Blogs are spreading massively in Egypt where they are considered by many as platforms to express oneself outside of any constraints, at least in theory.

On these spaces, bloggers address social, cultural, artistic, political and personal issues.

However, in some cases, blogging has taken on another dimension to become a genuine news source for issues not addressed by the mainstream newspapers, such as the torture exercised in police stations and the movements staged by workers.

Blogs are also used to express the opinions of the opposition and are sometimes used to call for a demonstration when necessary.

Voice of a new generation

In general, the expression of one’s opinion in complete freedom is important to all bloggers, in addition to the other benefits they reap from blogs.

As Amr Gharbeia, who writes on the blog, puts it: "If you ask me why I speak, I have no answer to that question. Freedom of speech is an core value and many consider it the most basic right of all. However, I can tell you why people choose web publishing over other media: it is cheaper, simpler, most individual and much more democratic”.  

For Karim Al-Buheiri, a worker in a textile factory in Al-Mahalla and the owner of the blog, blogging is "a safety raft for the free and unrestrained expression of my opinions and for the publication of facts concealed by the newspapers”.

Al-Mahalla is Egypt's textile capital, and Al-Buheiri's blog is a good example of how citizens are shedding light on their problems and urging the written and visual media to pay attention to these problems.

Last September, Al-Mahalla's textile workers went on strike.

The strike would have gone largely unnoticed if it hadn't been for Al-Buheiri, who covered the strike on his blog using text, images and sound bites. According to Al-Buheiri, more than 27,000 people visited his blog during the strike.

"The working class in Egypt is treated unfairly", says Al-Buheiri. "The workers have no party to speak in their name, and the existing parties pay no attention to their rights."

His blog, he says, is a way to help these workers express their problems.

A political tool

Of course, political parties have understood the potential of the blogging phenomenon too, and the Muslim Brotherhood especially has taken to blogging in a big way.

The Muslim Brothers use blogs in a variety if ways.

Some advocate freedom of expression, while others specialize in talking about Muslim Brothers in prison, demands for amendments to the constitution or the parliamentary elections.

Among them are "Ana Ikhwan" (I am a Muslim Brother), "Al-Qasas Lil Jamih" (Punishment to All), "Yatanafass bi Souhouba" (Breathing With Difficulty), "Insa" (Forget), "Mesh Han Battal" (We Will Not Stop) and "Ana Mesh Maahom" (I Am Not With Them), to name only a few.

These blogs are used to rally support for imprisoned Muslim Brothers like Issam Aryan, the head of the group’s political department, who was released by the Egyptian authorities in early October after spending almost two months in prison.

Bloggers have become such an essential part of the Muslim Brotherhood's political strategy that some are already calling them "the movement's media wing."

But according to journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Abdul Monem Mahmoud, there is a bigger issue. 

"The margin of freedom has become very tight for all Egyptians from all sects and ideologies", he says. "Blogs have effectively broken the state's media monopoly, and they have opened up new sources of information about Egypt in a new and popular way."

However, freedom of expression comes at a heavy price as Abdul Karim Nabil Suleiman (a.k.a. Kareem Amer) found out.