Thursday, February 22, 2007

Defaming Islam & the State: Egyptian Sedition Laws

Egyptian Blogger Sentenced to Prison - New York Times

The Associated Press reports that an Egyptian court has sentenced a blogger to four years in prison for defaming an Islamic college and the President of Egypt.

Until last year, Abdel Kareem Nabil was a student Al-Azhar University, which is an Islamic University. He got into trouble for criticizing the Al-Azhar, Islam, and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on his blog. According to the Associated Press:

"Nabil, who used the blogger name Kareem Amer, had sharply criticized Al-Azhar on his Web log, calling it ''the university of terrorism'' and accusing it of suppressing free thought. He also often criticized Mubarak's regime on the blog.

In one post, he said Al-Azhar University ''stuffs its students' brains and turns them into human beasts ... teaching them that there is not place for differences in this life.''

He was a vocal critic of conservative Muslims and in other posts described Mubarak's regime as a ''symbol of dictatorship.''

The university threw him out last year and pressed prosecutors to put him on trial."
Egypt has arrested bloggers before but Nabil is the first to be convicted and sentenced to prison for his speech crimes. According to the Associated Press there is a reason that Nabil was singled out for prison time:
"Egypt arrested a number of bloggers last year, most of them for connections to Egypt's pro-democracy reform movement. Nabil was arrested in November, and while other bloggers were freed, Nabil was put on trial -- a sign of the sensitivity of his writings on religion."
Can the Egyptian government succeed in clamping down on political and religious dissent by jailing Egyptian bloggers and journalists who openly criticize the state and Islam?

The Egyptian government maybe able to limit the publication of dissent in Egypt but what about the the problem of what Starr calls the "extra-territoritial" media. For example, check out the link list of "Kareem in the Press" on the "Free Kareem!" site.

How is this situation similar to the attempts by European governments in the 18th century to control the press through the use of seditious libel laws? What about our own Sedition Act (1798)?

Human Rights Watch and other organizations are working to free Nabil and protest this crackdown on free speech.


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