Prisoner of His Words
Imprisoned Egyptian Blogger Faces 9 Years in Prison for Championing Women's Rights, Free Speech, and Freedom of Religion. By Esra'a Al-Shafei Abdelkareem Soliman, also known online as Kareem Amer, is a soft-spoken 22 year-old Egyptian blogger whose basic personal rights have been abused by the Egyptian government. His only "crime" was to publish critical blogposts on the Internet. Due to the "secular" views expressed on his blog, he was expelled from Al-Azhar University and turned over the police prosecutor in Alexandria, Egypt.
January 22, 2007 - 12:46 am
Blogging has become an integral part of today’s youth culture around the world. For any young person with Internet access, maintaining a blog is a way to get your name and what you represent out to the global public. For young Middle Easterners, blogs are a lifeline: they let a person safely reveal himself or herself from behind a screen to anyone who would come clicking through.
But, what if these electronic confessions instead became a way for repressive governments to track and arrest you? Rather than having technology set people free, could Orwell’s predictions about state monitoring instead come true? For one Egyptian blogger, 1984′s cautionary tale about a world without rights or privacy has become the very world we live in today.
Aside from his political and religious criticism, Kareem was known for being a staunch defender of women’s rights in the region. He also stood out because he actually revealed his identity, rather than hide behind the mask of anonymity. His site on Blogger listed his name, photograph, and even a phone number – quite a daring act in such an intellectually sheltered society.
Since early November, when Kareem was arrested for the second time, he has been locked away without trial. He has been accused of various crimes, all of which were based solely on his blog entries. These include defaming Egypt’s president and tarnishing the reputation of Egypt. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has stated several times that Kareem’s safety and life is at stake, as he is not fit to serve much time in prison.
On Thursday he at last goes on trial and now faces up to 9 years in prison – simply for speaking his mind on his blog. Legal experts in Egypt expect he will receive – at a minimum – a three-year sentence.
Kareem’s detention without trial and ominous fate are threat to anyone in the Middle East who values freedom of expression. For young people in the Arab world, the message is clear. Exercising basic human rights means risking your life and your freedom. With the US government silent (aside from a few Congressional leaders who have protest Kareem’s arrest to the Egyptian government) and the Egyptian regime increasingly assertive, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Arab youth to maintain hope in civil rights in the Middle East.
Nonetheless, many young activists from across the region have united in support of Kareem. And we have done this despite the fact that he harshly criticized our Muslim faith. The Free Kareem campaign consists of many young Muslims, including his lawyers, who not only accept criticism but feel the need to defend the rights of people to freely express such criticism, as it is our only path to a stable democracy.
If there is one positive development to emerge from the prosecution and persecution of Kareem, it is that young Muslim bloggers in the Middle East have sent a message about promoting freedom of expression in our turbulent region.
It would be exceptionally helpful for fellow Americans to join our Free Kareem campaign in support of a young and harmless Middle Eastern blogger. His trial begins (and could end) on Thursday (January 25). If we can stand together – Americans, Middle Easterners, and people of all backgrounds – in support of free expression, we just might be able to hold back the forces of repression.
Al-Shafei, a blogger from Bahrain, runs FreeKareem.org. She is the co-founder of Mideast Youth and the Middle East Interfaith Blogger Network.