The first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution was celebrated in a climate of uncertainty and tension between a contested military power, a protest movement attempting to get its second wind, and triumphant Islamists. Bloggers and netizens critical of the army have been harassed, threatened, and sometimes arrested. Blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad was the first prisoner of conscience of the post-Mubarak era.
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The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been leading the country since Hosmi Mubarak February 2011 departure and his reluctant relinquishment of power to newly forces, has not kept its promises. It was not until the eve of the 25 January 25 festivities that the state of emergency in effect since 1981 was partially lifted. Untouchable in Egypt, the army still practices the same censorship and intimidation. The Council has not only perpetuated Hosni Mubarak’s ways of controlling information, but has strengthened them. Numerous journalists and bloggers seeking to expose the abuses committed during the pro-democratic uprising by certain elements of the Army or the military police have been prosecuted before military courts, and sometimes jailed for several months. The SCAF has affirmed that it will show “no tolerance for insults [against itself].”
Multiple assaults, threats of prosecution, and still more political prisoners
One striking example is blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, the first prisoner of conscience of the post-Mubarak era. This conscientious objector was sentenced by a military court to a three-year prison term in April 2011 for “insulting the armed forces.” He was accused of having published a report on his blog questioning the alleged neutrality of the army during the January and February 2011 demonstrations. Held incommunicado, he began a hunger strike that raised concern about his health. The judge had even decided to have him transferred to a psychiatric hospital. Along with close to 2,000 other detainees, he was granted a pardon on January 21, and finally released on January 24, 2012 after spending ten months behind bars. Immediately after his release, he once more began to challenge the legitimacy of the armed forces and criticizing their record on the eve of the first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution.
Australian journalist Austin Mackell, who relates Egyptian revolution events in his articles and in his blog “The Moon under water,” was arrested while covering a general strike in Mahalla on February 11, 2012, the first anniversary of former president Hosni Mubarak’s departure. His arrest confirms the Egyptian authorities’ anxiety about the strikes that began one year ago. The military government, which has been running the country since the ousting of the former rais [president], is fearful that the unrest may spread even as anger continues to escalate in the streets.
Blogger Asmaa Mahfouz was also interrogated and warned that she would be prosecuted for insulting the SCAF. The army finally decided not to pursue the case after a particularly aggressive online campaign that led Egyptian netizens to say that she had been “released with a hashtag.”
On May 15, 2011 blogger Botheina Kamel was summoned for questioning by the national military court shortly after she criticized the army on the Nile TV station.
Blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was incarcerated in late October 2011 for refusing to respond to charges of “incitement to violence,” “theft of a weapon,” “assaulting army personnel,” “destruction of military property,” “premeditated murder” and “intent to commit a terrorist act” during riots in Maspero, was indicted toward the end of November by the Egyptian High National Security Court, and then released in late December 2011. Reporters Without Borders asked that the charges against him be dropped. The army showed that it was still capable of violence during these confrontations between Coptic protesters and police forces in Cairo’s Maspero district: it has directly targeted the media and journalists and has also temporarily cut off electricity, phone lines, and Internet connections in newspaper Al-Shorooq offices.
On October 22, 2011, Ayman Youssef Mansour was sentenced to three years of forced labor for “deliberately insulting, attacking and mocking the dignity of the Islamic religion” on Facebook. The netizen was arrested last August.
Assaults and mistreatments of bloggers and information professionals have been multiplying. Among the victimized bloggers are Mona Eltahawy, Maged Butter, and Malek Mostafa, who lost an eye during the Tahrir Square “cleansing” in late November 2011.
Is the SCAF still tampering with bandwidth speeds?
Near the end of November 2011, while the country was in the throes of a new revolutionary episode in the run-up to the legislative elections, several independent sources alerted Reporters Without Borders that Internet connection speeds had slowed down several times during the demonstrations. Internet access from Vodafone mobile phones and other digital devices had also been impeded.
Did the army give the green light to cutting off Internet services at the height of the revolution? Former president Hosni Mubarak accused Egyptian Marshal Tantawi of being behind this decision, which the SCAF allegedly denied.
Justice for Khaled Said?
The trial of policemen Mahmoud Salah Amin and Awad Ismail Souleiman, the alleged murderers of Egyptian blogger Khaled Said killed on 6 June 2010 in front of an Alexandria cybercafé, resulted in each receiving a seven-year jail sentence. According to the medical examiner’s report, the netizen was apparently beaten unconscious before being suffocated, contradicting the two suspects’ claim that the young man had died after intentionally ingesting some drug at the time of his arrest.
Many netizens felt that the verdict was too lenient. Khaled Said’s death triggered such an outcry in the Egyptian blogosphere that he became one of the symbols of the Revolution on the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said.”
A still-mobilized blogosphere
Egyptian society remains divided between those who believe that the Revolution is over, those who want to continue to fight for democracy, and the largest group: the undecided. In a country undergoing a difficult transition, most bloggers have no intention of giving up their keyboards. They say they are determined to pursue their “mission to inform” despite the challenges facing Egypt, particularly in view of the presidential elections scheduled to be held there near the end of June 2012.